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.

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Rachel Whiteread, British, born 1963
Untitled (Fire Escape)
Plaster, fiberglass resin, and wood
289 3/4 × 215 3/8 × 236 3/8 in. (736 × 547.1 × 600.4 cm)
Credit Line

Museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund

Current Location
Not on view
Accession Number

[Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York]; The Chaney Family Collection, Houston; purchased by MFAH, 2008.