Ghost lives on: The structural treatment of a monumental plaster sculpture by Rachel Whiteread

Judy L. Ozone, Andrew Watt, and Shelley G. Sturman


The treatment of Rachel Whiteread’s plaster sculpture, Ghost (1990), was shaped by many challenging factors: unstable material properties and construction, sizable footprint, high material and engineering costs, and work space constraints, as well as the need to balance ethical considerations with treatment goals while respecting the artist’s concerns. The iconic sculpture is a negative cast of an entire room in a Victorian townhouse and is composed of 86 plaster panels attached to a four-sided steel armature. In preparation for a retrospective exhibition, a trial installation was scheduled to introduce structural improvements. In the course of unpacking, one of the keystone plaster panels was found to have such severe cracks that Ghost could not be installed without jeopardizing the entire structure. The primary goal of the treatment was to ensure that the sculpture be made stable so that the work could be exhibited safely. This was accomplished by improving several distinct but interdependent conditions: the physical stability of each plaster panel, the attachment strength between the back of each plaster panel and the anchor (hardware) to the armature, the security of the panels to the armature, and the overall stability of the supporting armature.

KEYWORDS: Whiteread, Plaster, Armature, Jesmonite

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2018 | Houston | Volume 25