House was a temporary public sculpture by British artist Rachel Whiteread, completed in East London on 25 October 1993 and demolished eleven weeks later on 11 January 1994. The work won Whiteread the Turner Prize for best young British artist and the K Foundation art award for the worst British artist in November 1993.
Whiteread had previously exhibited her sculpture Ghost, a plaster cast of the inside of a room in a Victorian house, at the Chisenhale Gallery in 1990. House was conceived as a similar work on a larger scale, encompassing not just a single room but an entire house. The work was commissioned by Artangel and sponsored by Beck's Beer and Tarmac Structural Repairs. It was intended that the selected house would have been already scheduled for demolition and that the work would be temporary, but the structure had to be free-standing so it would be visible from all sides.
After some initial discussions in 1991 and 1992 when other locations in London were considered, a Victorian terraced house in East London was selected for the work, and a temporary lease was granted by the local council of 193 Grove Road, in Mile End, E3, near the old Roman road from London to Colchester. The house was formerly part of a terrace, but some of the buildings on the road were destroyed by bombing in the Second World War, and later replaced by prefabricated dwellings.
By the 1990s, the area had a diverse social mix, with churches from three different denominations nearby. The local buildings comprised a mixture of Victorian terraces and villas, with high-rise blocks of flats from the 1960s and later, and the development at Canary Wharf was visible in the distance. The area was in the middle of an extensive redevelopment, and the local authorities decided to demolish the terrace to create a new park beside Roman Road and Grove Road. Sid Gale, the last residential occupier of 193 Grove Road, opposed its demolition, and continued to live in the house while the remainder of the terrace was demolished, leaving his house and the ones to either side, but he was eventually persuaded to move out.
The work was a concrete cast of the inside of the entire three-story house, basement, ground floor and first floor, including stairs and bay windows, but not the roof space. After Whiteread took possession of the building in August 1993, new foundations were created to support the new concrete. Internal structures such as sinks and cupboards were removed, holes in the walls filled and the windows covered, to prepare a continuous internal surface that could be sprayed with a debonding agent, then a 5 centimetres (2.0 in) layer of locrete coloured light grey, and then a final 25 centimetres (9.8 in) layer of concrete reinforced with steel mesh. The builders left through a hole in the roof which was then sealed, and the external brick-built structure was removed.
The casting took place from August to October 1993, and the work was opened to the public on 25 October 1993. Being so heavy, the work was exhibited at the former location of the original house, on the edge of a new public park, Wennington Green, and beside Grove Road. The other houses in the terrace had already been demolished by Tower Hamlets London Borough Council.
House became a popular visitor attraction, with thousands of visitors per day. Graffiti was later added on one side reading "Wot for?" with the enigmatic reply "Why not!". It received rave reviews from critics. Andrew Graham-Dixon of The Independent describing it as "one of the most extraordinary and imaginative public sculptures created by an English artist this century". However, it was described as a monstrosity by the chair of the local council. A petition demanding it remain permanently received 3,300 signatures. A motion for its retention was moved in the House of Commons by the local Bow and Poplar member of parliament Mildred Gordon in November 1993.
The work won Whiteread the Turner Prize in November 1993, but the council confirmed the decision to demolish it the same day, passed by the casting vote of the chairman of the planning committee. The controversy was compared to that over the public sculptures by Jacob Epstein and Eric Gill, with the fate of the work recalling Richard Serra's Tilted Arc in New York. At the same time as winning the Turner Prize, Whiteread won the K Foundation art award for the worst example of British art, twice the amount of the Turner Prize. Whiteread was hesitant at accepting their award at first, but the money would have been burnt if she had not done so. She donated half of the money to the housing charity Shelter, and the remainder in grants to young artists.
The thin structure of House was demolished within two hours on 11 January 1994 and nothing remains.
- Walker, John A. (1999) The house that no longer was a home, excerpt from Art & Outrage.
- Roberts, Alison. "Best and worst of art bites the dust". The Times, London, 12 January 1994.
- This is the house that Rachel built, The Independent, 2 November 1993
- Gallery of Lost Art blog
- Gallery of Lost Art essay