The complement of books

Lorcan 1 min read

We spent several days in Washington DC over the Thanksgiving period. We were intrigued by Rachel Whiteread’s Untitled (Library) in the Hirshhorn.

Since the late 1980s, Rachel Whiteread has used resin, rubber and, as in Untitled (Library), dental plaster to cast overlooked domestic spaces. Like earlier works by Bruce Nauman and Joseph Beuys, Whiteread presents the cast of the negative space defined by an object as the final artwork, rather than replicating the object itself. Her simplified, abstract transformations of familiar forms, including bathtubs, chairs, and mattresses, often recall Minimalist sculpture. Untitled (Library) is one of a series of works related to the Holocaust Memorial in Vienna, Austria, designed by Whiteread and inaugurated in 2000. Here, the artist inverted a room-sized library-once common to Viennese homes-by casting the space between pages of books and surrounding shelves. The absent volumes nevertheless leave the imprint of their unique dimensions and colored page ends, suggesting both the personal stories of the approximately 66,000 Austrian Jews (traditionally identified as “People of the Book”) who perished during the Holocaust and the general devastation of World War II.

Kristen Hileman, EXL 2001 [Collection Search Record]

I have not seen Unititled (Paperbacks) or other of her works where books, or rather the absence left by books, feature. I had remembered reading about the Memorial. This work was suggestive beyond the occasion of its creation.
And, even though maybe not intended in the way that I hear it, the ‘title’ of the work has been running through my head: Untitled (Library). The books are also ‘untitled’: they exist only in their remembered shapes. They have lost identity, their title to memory.

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