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Rachel’s inside-out’ house turns art world upside down

PUBLISHED: 20:10 27 November 2008 | UPDATED: 13:50 05 October 2010

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HISTORIAN Garry Haines looks back at an episode in recent East End history when an inside out’ house appeared out of nowhere on open ground where a row of houses had just been bulldozed, next to the Regent’s Canal. Artist Rachel Whiteread’s life-size, two-storey creation in 1993 raise a few eyebrows at the Town Hall—and controversy between those wanting the “monstrosity” pulled down and those fighting for the “masterpiece” to be preserved

HISTORIAN Garry Haines looks back at an extraordinary episode in recent East End history when an inside out’ house appeared out of nowhere on open ground where a row of houses had just been bulldozed next to the Regent’s Canal. Artist Rachel Whiteread’s life-size, two-storey creation in 1993 raise a few eyebrows at the Town Hall—and controversy between those wanting the “monstrosity” pulled down and those fighting for the “masterpiece” to be preserved.

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By Gary Haines

“HOUSE is utter rubbish—the monstrosity will not remain in place beyond the end of November.”

“House is perhaps the most impressive work of public art to appear in this country for many years.”

These two opinions both appeared in the letters page of The Independent on November 5, 1993, and are typical of the contrasting views that surrounded the Turner Prize-winning artist Rachel Whiteread and her work House,’ located in Bethnal Green’s Grove Road from October 25 that year.

House’ was created from the interior of 193 Grove Road, one of a row of terraced properties that Tower Hamlets Council had condemned.

The artist and a team of builders sprayed liquid concrete inside the property. The exterior was then peeled away’—leaving the white concrete exposed, which captured the living’ space.

Burlington Magazine commented on the result: “The casting process reveals the numerous small fire-grates which jut out from one side, some colouring from the interior walls has adhered to the concrete. Window panes thrust out from their glazing bars. Everywhere, inverted details add disorientation to the utterly familiar outline.”

The work was seen by many as a memorial to the East End family home and the space they lived in. Members of the Gale Family—the last occupiers of 193 Grove Road—were, however, not impressed.

Sidney Gale blasted the work due to its £50,000 cost and lack of grants for new homes.

He was memorably quoted in the East London Advertiser: “They’ve taken the wee wee out of me.”

Soon after the unveiling, graffiti appeared on its walls: “Wot For” and “Homes for all Black and White.” A For Sale’ sign was also placed nearby.

Extensive articles on the work appeared in the East London Advertiser, Burlington Magazine, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Time Out.

“I was used to making work in the studio,” Whiteread commented. “With this, everything was immediately very public and people had their say at once.

“I had to take a deep breath and step aside. If I wanted to look at it, I’d have to go down in disguise.”

Around 800 people visited House’ every day. It provoked debate about the role of contemporary art, with some critics viewing it as the most imaginative public sculpture created by an English artist in the 20th century.

Others, however viewed it as a folly—even a hoax.

Discussions began on whether it should be demolished or kept permanently.

Tower Hamlets did agree to extend its lease beyond November that year. The chair of the-then Bow Standing Neighbourhood committee, Cllr Flounders, believed the work was a monstrosity’ and insisted it was always planned to be a temporary piece’ and that this was the basis on which permission had been given.

“The award of the Turner prize to Rachel Whiteread does not change any of the facts,” he said.

A petition gathered 3,000 signatures—but to no affect. House’ would simply have to go.

Whiteread, who is only one of three women to have won the Turner since it began 25 years ago, heard the news on the November 23, 1993, that her piece was to be demolished.

This was also the day she found out she won the Turner award and £20,000.

She also won £40,000 from the K Foundation—but this was for the worst artist of the year’ and if not accepted the money would be burnt by the foundation (made up of former members of the band KLF) outside the Tate Gallery on the night of November 23.

Rather than see this money needlessly burned, the award was accepted—and the money put to good use when Rachel gave it to a combination of charity and funding of young artists.

House’ was finally demolished in January, 1994. It was knocked down within an hour. The rubble was pulverised and the remains buried and grassed over.

—Gary Haines


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