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Arts of Europe

The MFAH collections of art created on the European continent encompass artistic styles across the time line of history, from the ancient world to the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern era to the 21st century.

© Rachel Whiteread
British, born 1963
Untitled (Fire Escape)
Plaster, fiberglass resin, and wood

290 x 215 x 236 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase with funds provided by the
Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund

Arts of Europe

Using the age-old process of direct casting, Rachel Whiteread has reinvigorated traditional sculpture with a quiet yet authoritative sense of space making. She materializes absent spaces by casting the undersides and negative surroundings of domestic objects and architectural casings. Whether a cast of a mattress or of an entire room, Whiteread’s sculpture references its source and the history embedded within it.

Whiteread is known for her inside-out casts, in which the original object or space determines the sculpture’s shape, but Untitled (Fire Escape) departs from this strategy. A cast of ambient—as opposed to enclosed—space, it declares a certain independence from its origin. Instead of taking a direct cast, Whiteread made molds and cast the staircase in segments in the studio. She then reconfigured the three flights of stairs, joining them at the center with a shared landing, to create an abstract, geometric shape. Untitled (Fire Escape) marks a culmination in Whiteread’s career, merging a variety of past concerns and themes: the domestic object on an architectural scale, the cast of a void supplemented by artistic prerogative, and the formal abstraction, latent in earlier ventures, now realized in full force.