A Tale of Two Museums: Sharing Rachel Whiteread’s Monolithic Staircase


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Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Domestic), 2002, cast plaster on various armatures; Owned jointly by Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; George B. and Jenny R. Mathews Fund and Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; The Henry L. Hillman Fund.

Like most museums, CMOA often has multiple artworks from a single artist in its permanent collection. Rachel Whiteread, one of the Young British Artists and the first woman to receive the prestigious Turner Prize in 1993, is a perfect example. While Untitled (Yellow Bath) is one of nine featured objects in the exhibition Uncrated: The Hidden Lives of Artworks, CMOA has another monumental work from the British-born artist that boasts a substantially larger footprint in the galleries. It’s also an artwork that reveals a somewhat uncommon shared arrangement between two museums.

Untitled (Domestic), which is jointly owned with Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, has been exhibited at both institutions. A monolithic sculpture, the piece is representative of Whiteread’s ambitious art practice. Douglas Fogle, curator of contemporary art at the time of acquisition, offered this detailed overview of the object during his tenure at CMOA:  

Untitled (Domestic) is a sculpture [cast in plaster] from an interior staircase in a three-story, 18th-century London building that was once the home of the British naval hero Admiral Lord Nelson. Whiteread created this work by casting the space surrounding the staircase. To produce a work of this size, she cast the original space in parts and reassembled the pieces in her studio. This approach freed her from the limitations imposed by doorway clearances in the original building and allowed her to alter and recombine the various sections. The basic forms of Untitled (Domestic) reflect the original staircase, but the irregular surface textures and the recombined angles of the forms are Whiteread’’s invention. The result is a disorienting structure whose inverted steps and twisting angles seem to extend upward toward to an unknown destination.

Acquired in 2006, Untitled (Domestic) was last on view in CMOA’s Hall of Sculpture in May 2007 (pictured above). Since then, the sculpture has primarily been on view or in storage at Albright-Knox in Buffalo.

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Art preparators at Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo install Rachel Whiteread’s Untitled (Domestic) in the museum’s Sculpture Court, August 2012. Image via Albright-Knox Gallery.

Uncrated: The Hidden Lives of Artworks is on view in the Scaife Lounge at Carnegie Museum of Art from March 9, 2015–May 8, 2015. Learn the stories behind some intriguing works from CMOA’s collection and find out more about the people who buy, move, hang, clean, and care for them. Over the course of nine weeks, a team of registrars, conservators, preparators, and curators will be sharing their work with the public as they examine objects recently taken out of storage. Come back throughout the show and visit uncrated.cmoa.org to see what new discoveries the team is making.