Exhibit of the week
Rachel Whiteread
Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Through Jan. 25

Rachel Whiteread’s sculptures make you do a double take, said Christine Fernsebner in the Boston Herald. Amber Floor (1993) at first “looks like a dirty Slip ’N Slide,” or maybe like a bright orange sled headed straight for a wall. Study it more closely, however, and you’ll see that the surface of the rubber sculpture “bears the outlines of floorboards and whorls of wood grain.” Whiteread created it by taking a cast of the space between the floors of a house—an unusual method of sculpting “empty space” that Whiteread has perfected over the past 15 years. “Chiefly known for her plaster casts of closets, rooms, and whole houses,” Whiteread takes as her subject the mundane domestic spaces others overlook.

This Museum of Fine Arts show has united several “ethereal” Whiteread sculptures with a new installation in a new style, said Karen Rosenberg in The New York Times. Place (Village) (2008) consists of “some 200 vintage dollhouses lighted from within and arranged on stepped pedestals in a darkened room.” Whiteread has covered their walls and floors in extravagant detail, including wallpaper, carpets, curtains, and even miniature artwork. But they are lacking both furniture and people. “It’s impossible to look at all those empty houses, however miniaturized, without thinking about the current epidemic of foreclosures.” Yet that’s not really Whiteread’s intent. Instead, Place (Village) seems to be a new way of tackling her old subject, the emptiness that haunts everyday life. Though more direct in its symbolism than her earlier sculptures, it “may strike the artist’s admirers as a bizarre and kitschy departure.”

The truth is, Whiteread’s quirky new dollhouse collection “just isn’t that great,” said Sebastian Smee in The Boston Globe. Whiteread’s earlier works “made absence poignantly present.” This new one seems “initially charming” but doesn’t reward prolonged study. In terms of style, it has so little in common with the other sculptures on display here that the whole exhibition comes to seem “an ad hoc gathering of barely connected work. Whiteread is a ­fascinating artist—one of the best currently working. “If only there were more things here” that showed her at her best.