Exhibitions Fairs United Kingdom

Artangel: 20 years since Rachel Whiteread’s 'House'

Its most famous commission, a concrete cast of an entire East End family home, put the public art organisation on the map

Rachel Whiteread’s House, 1993

This autumn marks the 20th anniversary of what is Artangel’s most famous project: Rachel Whiteread’s House, 1993, a concrete cast of an entire East End family home, which prompted a now unimaginably vociferous debate around contemporary art. “House was a mute object—everyone spoke on behalf of it, but sculptures don’t generally speak,” says James Lingwood, a co-director of Artangel, with a laugh. “But in its own language, the language of architecture and social, domestic space, it had conversations with all of these other architectural structures around [it]: other houses, churches, high-rise buildings, Canary Wharf. And I think that made it a different kind of proposition from a sculpture in a gallery.”

Works that transcend the gallery space are the reason that Artangel exists, and Lingwood and his co-director Michael Morris have developed a formidable reputation for their combinations of work and site. Lingwood likens their role to the Open House initiative run by Open City, whereby thousands of private institutions, offices and homes open their doors to the public once a year. “We like the idea of Artangel being a bit like an Open City equivalent,” he says. “We open up the possibility of people discovering places they didn’t know were there, even if they were under their noses.”

In the past two years, they have set Yael Bartana’s dense works, based on an imaginary socialist movement asking Jews to return to Poland, in Hornsey Town Hall. “The municipal socialism that was somehow embedded within it became an active material in Yael’s work,” Lingwood says. They have also worked with Lindsay Seers on a remarkable video installation in the Tin Tabernacle, a former church built from corrugated iron in Kilburn that is now a sea cadets centre. The work was “a particularly complex entanglement of the site and what material Lindsay brought to it”, Lingwood says. Seers’s project was emblematic of their best work. “In the instance of a project that worked that well, you can’t properly disentangle the project from the site. If you experience it in one place, that’s it—it’s very hard to imagine it could be elsewhere,” he says.

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