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Looking Up: Rachel Whiteread's Water Tower

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Edited by Louise Neri. Scalo/ Public Art Fund New York, 1999. 196pp. £27.50. Distributed by Thames & Hudson

Soon after the furore surrounding her cast concrete House in 1993, Rachel Whiteread was commissioned to create another temporary public art work, this time in New York, writes Andrew Mead. Eventually realised last year, it was a 4.5 tonne resin cast of one of the city's myriad wooden water towers - 'that engineering solution to the problem of water pressure in buildings of the transitional era between the age of the tenement and that of the skyscraper,' as Luc Sante remarks in his essay in Looking Up.

The book's colour photographs show how sensitive to changing light conditions this resin replica was: flaring in the sun but more spectral, almost invisible on an overcast day. And just as House touched a collective nerve, and stimulated some searching commentaries (for example Anthony Vidler's), so did this translucent water tower on its SoHo roof.

Looking Up is a beautifully designed record of the project, copiously illustrated to include the wide range of source material that Whiteread drew on as well as the complex process of the tower's fabrication and its brief rooftop life. 30 pages are devoted to reactions and interpretations that the work provoked, from the indifference of one passer-by to the appreciative analysis of MoMA architecture curator Terence Riley. Only a tiny proportion of public art works would ever justify this depth of documentation but, when they do, Looking Up is the model to follow.

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