The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 2800 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.
'Valley' by Rachel Whiteread is composed of six blocks of plaster which reveal the imprint of a bathtub when they are placed together. The outsides form a rectangular block. The hollow where the bathtub was originally is covered with a glass plate that fits exactly. Valley evokes associations with a grave because of the hollow shape and the covering with a glass plate, which also refers to the presence of something valuable. Because of the height of the work – Whiteread makes the sculpture higher than a normal bathtub – the visitor does not see immediately what has been covered. It is only when he is right at the edge that the empty space becomes visible. Dividing the sculpture into blocks also contributes to the sense that you are looking at something from the past, at valuable fragments of something that has been lost.
Since 1988, Whiteread has been making sculptures consisting of casts of parts of an interior, or of large objects for human use, such as tables, bathtubs, mattresses or an entire living room. Normally a cast is made using a mould so that it has the exact shape of the original. However, she presents the mould as a sculpture. The materials she chooses include plaster, wax and rubber. Her sculptures are an immediate reminder of the original, but they are not copies of it, and in this way her objects transcend their function as everyday artefacts and become a sort of monument. She said: “My intention was to give certain spaces a weight they never had, but it is also to do with retaining a presence. In that sense it certainly is about maintaining something, and materials such as rubber and plaster have always been associated with this.”
The objects she used as a starting point are never new. They reveal traces of use in the form of minor damage, patches of rust, or hairs left behind. These traces can be discovered in Whiteread’s sculptures, which means that you are not looking at the object, purely as a shape, but also at the use of that object, and therefore the memories of human activities. The human presence is still almost tangible. In this respect, Whiteread said: “I use furniture as a metaphor for people.” Because of their literal absence, the sculptures also evoke feelings of loss, desolation and even death. Whiteread’s sculptures mean that you can feel absence; they are monuments to memory.
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