Whiteread was one of the Young British Artists who exhibited at the Royal Academy's Sensation exhibition in 1997. Among her most renowned works are House, a large concrete cast of the inside of an entire Victorian house; the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial in Vienna, resembling the shelves of a library with the pages turned outwards; and Untitled Monument, her resin sculpture for the empty fourth plinth in London's Trafalgar Square.
Whiteread was born in 1963 in Ilford, and raised in the Essex countryside until age seven when the family moved to London. Her mother, Patricia Whiteread (née Lancaster), who was also an artist, died in 2003 at the age of 72. Her father, Thomas Whiteread, was a geography teacher, polytechnic administrator and lifelong supporter of the Labour Party, who died when Whiteread was studying at art school in 1988. She is the third of three sisters – the older two being identical twins.
She took a workshop on casting with the sculptor Richard Wilson and began to realize the possibilities in casting objects. She was briefly at the Cyprus College of Art. From 1985 to 1987 she studied sculpture at Slade School of Art, University College, London, graduating with an MA in 1987.
For a time she worked in Highgate Cemetery fixing lids back onto time-damaged coffins. She began to exhibit in 1987, with her first solo exhibition coming in 1988. She lives and works in a former synagogue in east London with long-term partner and fellow sculptor Marcus Taylor. They have two sons.
Many of Whiteread's works are casts of ordinary domestic objects and, in numerous cases, their so-called negative space. For example, she is known for making solid casts of the open space in and around pieces of furniture such as tables and chairs, architectural details and even entire rooms and buildings. She says the casts carry "the residue of years and years of use." Whiteread mainly focuses on the line and the form for her pieces.