Small-Time Rachel Whiteread

04/13/2011 4:00 AM |

Size matters. Some art needs to be large to be effective; other works should be small. It’s a tricky game to figure out, and when a work fails for this reason, it’s inevitably awkward.

Rachel Whiteread‘s current show of resin doors and windows at Luhring Augustine, Long Eyes (through April 30), is an unlikely example of scale failure. The majority of cast sculptures she’s exhibited in the past reproduce the original object without changing its size and many of those works are successful. I’ll never forget Whiteread’s cast plaster mattress, an object strangely resembling a fossilized relic of domestic life. That piece is occasionally on view at MoMA.

So why does the scale feel so wrong in her current show? Mostly, it’s Whiteread’s poor choice of materials that leaves a viewer wishing for transformation through other means. Aside from creating decorative pastel windows with titles like “Daylight,” the resin reminds me too much of 3D printed plastic. Not that there’s anything wrong with the technique, but the stereotype of objects made this way is that they are just a result of someone noodling around in Photoshop. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the work immediately reminded me of Rory Donaldson‘s facile stretched-out photo landscapes.

Whiteread does better when she evokes minimalism, a reference dimmed by candy-colored doors and windows in resin. But the biggest problem with the exhibition isn’t lost or misplaced references, but simply that there’s so little to say about any of the objects. Sameness pervades the show, a low point reached with a small honey-colored resin cast of a man-made hive. There appears to be no point to this work past creating a high-end assembly line object. It’s depressing.

A relief print in the back gallery titled “Squashed” offers some reprieve if only because it’s unclear whether she’s built the surface up with paper pulp or actually overlaid crushed cans on the paper (it’s the former). Also interesting is a row of rusty casts of Coke cans on a shelf, but that’s mostly because the aura of the original object remains.

Incidentally, I didn’t think about scale when looking at either of the latter works. They aren’t perfect, but unlike the rest of the work here, at least most of my time wasn’t spent wishing they were something else.

(Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.)