Rachel Whiteread Untitled (Paperbacks) 1997

  • Not on view

Whiteread creates plaster casts from objects and spaces, evoking physical memories of them. Untitled (Paperbacks) is the negative cast of the interior of a library, turned inward; a room filled with the spectral marks of books whose contents and titles appear to be lost. The plaster surfaces are a visible manifestation of the room—the books' binding colors, their widths, and even the texture of their pages are still "readable." Whiteread's sculpture creates tension between the haunting and the poetic, the monumental and the fragile, and the ephemeral and the eternal.

Gallery label from Out of Time: A Contemporary View, August 30, 2006–April 9, 2007.
Additional text

Untitled (Paperbacks) is a room-sized installation that feels empty but isn't quite: on all four walls hang rows of long white objects that look like shelves but are not, for they are plaster, not wood, and their surfaces are uneven, and vacant. These regularly spaced tiers suggest a library without books, yet books were here, and their traces remain. Whiteread made these objects by casting shelves of paperbacks, whose slightly differing sizes account for the plaster's uneven surfaces. Look closely, too, and you may see a residue of paper embedded in the casts, the edges of the pages caught as the plaster dried.

Whiteread specializes in the sculptural reversal that makes a solid object speak less of its own material presence than of objects that are no longer present, yet maintain a ghostly presence in their absence. The early work of this British artist comprised castings of everyday furniture—mattress, table, bathtub—in mediums from resin to concrete. She next addressed architecture, as in Untitled (Room) (1993), a plaster work also in the Museum's collection: here empty space becomes an opaque cube marked on its outside by the lines of a room's windows and door. Her more recent outdoor Holocaust memorial in Vienna is another room, once lined with books, which left their marks on the outside of a sealed block, symbolizing the lives and the culture lost to Nazi persecution. Untitled (Paperbacks), by contrast, is a library you can enter. Although there is nothing to read in it, it is filled with the knowledge, ideas, and memories contained in books, even if you must bring those associations with you into this serene, but haunted, place.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 346.
Plaster and steel
Overall 14' 9 1/8" x 15' 9" x 20' 8 3/4" (450 x 480 x 632 cm)
Gift of Agnes Gund; Thomas W. Weisel, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Frances R. Dittmer, John Kaldor, Emily Rauh Pulitzer, and Leon Black Funds, and an anonymous fund
Object number
© 2024 Rachel Whiteread
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

We have identified these works in the following photos from our exhibition history.

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit https://www.moma.org/research/circulating-film.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].