New York

Rachel Whiteread, Threshold II, 2010, resin, 77 1/8 x 29 7/8 x 3".

Rachel Whiteread, Threshold II, 2010, resin, 77 1/8 x 29 7/8 x 3".

Rachel Whiteread

Rachel Whiteread, Threshold II, 2010, resin, 77 1/8 x 29 7/8 x 3".

Rachel Whiteread’s basic project—to give substance to the void and endurance to the transitory, to fill in the blank—is both realized and contradicted by the main group of works in this show, which put clarity and color to ethereal effect. Whiteread’s well-known earlier sculptural casts of anonymous spaces and objects (the little volume between the legs of a chair, the three-story interior of a nondescript house on a London street) materialized, even monumentalized, the unconsidered and unseen, but didn’t always beautify them. That house, for example, installed in 1993 in Mile End, London, was made of concrete, bringing a brute facticity to a long-derelict neighborhood then being cleared for redevelopment. Beautiful it was, but in a complicated, arguable way, as was shown by the controversy around it, not to mention its eventual demolition. The wall-based works in “Long Eyes,” on the other hand, index not materiality but its opposite, and are plangently gorgeous.

The works are mostly made of transparent resin, a medium Whiteread has used before, exploring its qualities of translucency and light. Here, though, by marrying it with the forms of doors and windows, she gives it both particularity and a suggestive metaphoric openness. The windows, all cast from double-hung window frames with glass in place, are, respectively, a subtle violet (Daylight) and the lightest gray (Dawn, both 2010). The doors—Doorway I, Threshold II, and Threshold III, all 2010—are respectively pink, yellow, and a deeper, smokier gray. Two more windows, Dark, 2010, and Night, 2011, are made not of resin but fiberglass and are painted sheer black, but the black is glossy and reflective, throwing out light rather than absorbing it, so that these works, though denser and more material, share behavior with the resin pieces, which brighten their own shadows with a glow. The windows hang on the wall, and the doors lean against it, like transparent John McCrackens—but not quite, for they show the traces of fanlights and panels, mail slots and locks, and look like doors, despite the inversions made in them by Whiteread’s casting process. The windows seem stranger objects, for we rarely see a window and its frame in one frozen lump. And whereas a door is made to be a thing, a visible barrier, a window is intended to vanish, to give the illusion of unobstructed passage—to appear as an opening in the wall, not as an object suspended from it.

Both doors and windows, though, either are or mark openings in the wall, and here the exactingly literal aspect of Whiteread’s castings fuses with their poetic associativeness. Whiteread’s art is often memorial in tone, sometimes explicitly, as in her Vienna Holocaust Memorial, 1995–2000. She points to and preserves often humble artifacts of life, and at the same time infuses them with melancholy and morbidity: What was open becomes closed and impenetrable; what was see-through becomes solid and opaque. These new works, though, evoke something different: the passage implied by the window or door, sieved through light and color, suggests some lovelier kind of transformation.

Why the title “Long Eyes”? My guess is—or I fantasize—it’s a pun, each narrow upright door suggesting the capital letter I. The linguistic shift from I’s to Eyes would connect these works with vision, further layering the meaning of their transparency.

The exhibition also included a group of smaller works, of which, besides a wonderfully honey-colored resin cast of a beehive, the most notable was Half Dozen, 2010, a group of beer or soda cans cast in plaster mixed with iron oxide, which gives them a rust-colored patina. The obvious reference here was to Jasper Johns, and his Painted Bronze of 1960. But where Johns made the lightweight and disposable aluminum can heavy and permanent (the signal qualities of bronze), Whiteread, by working in plaster, returns it to fragility, and adds to it a signifier of decay—though in her hands, it must be said, rust becomes elegant.

David Frankel