Dip is a wall-hung sculpture that comprises a single sheet of galvanised steel which has been cut into an ellipse and pierced by three differently shaped holes. The work hangs from a single clout nail, which is visible through the small, circular hole at the top of the steel sheet. Two other elliptical holes penetrate the work, one of which is plugged by an old-fashioned bar of soap. The title employs the kind of linguistic ambiguity that has delighted Wentworth throughout his career, and demonstrates his longstanding preference for what he refers to as ‘short, sharp, single-syllable, Anglo Saxon’ words (quoted in unpublished correspondence with a Tate curator, April 2003). The word ‘dip’ is both noun and verb, referring to the idea of ‘taking a dip’ or dipping into something, suggesting that the steel disc could resemble a puddle or a small pool. This watery theme is reinforced by the presence of the soap.

A number of Wentworth’s works from the 1980s have alluded to water, using hard metal surfaces to suggest a penetrable and translucent layer. Yellow Eight 1985 (Tate T06528), for example, consists of two galvanised steel buckets which have been cut and soldered together to produce a hybrid, figure-of-eight object that is both single and double. An impression of water inside the container is created by the reflective surface of a highly polished brass sheet just below the rim. Wentworth has frequently used buckets in his work, and the sheet metal which represents the water inside, frequently tipped to an oblique angle, is often pierced by such objects as tin cans and other, smaller, buckets. Dip is reminiscent of these watery surfaces, but rotated ninety degrees. Wentworth has said of this work that, originally, ‘the shape ... was probably an escaped ‘disc’ ... from an oblique level in a container of some kind – there were always lots of leftovers which I pay attention to’ (quoted in unpublished correspondence with a Tate curator, April 2003). Yet the mode of Dip’s display reveals its sharp edges and thus reinforces our understanding of the metal as an impenetrable substance.

Richard Wentworth is one of a prominent generation of British sculptors that includes Tony Cragg and Bill Woodrow whose work references the everyday. All these artists have taken ready-made domestic objects as the starting point for assemblages where unexpected images are made by juxtaposing and manipulating ordinary materials. Wentworth’s sculptures are hybrid objects that defy literal interpretation. While they offer visual humour, and their titles offer clues to possible readings, they are not visual equivalents for literary jokes but rather the unexpected mutations of a quiet and lateral wit. Wentworth establishes a double role for such everyday manufactured objects as buckets and chairs, and disrupts their conventional significance. Everyday household objects thus assume new identities as works of art, embodying thereafter both the familiar and the unfamiliar. Dip testifies to Wentworth’s affection for mundane objects and his ability to transform them into intriguing visual conundrums: a bar of soap is set afloat on a ‘pool’ of galvanised steel, yet its vertical hang is perplexing. Wentworth, who pays close attention to how gravity and balance functions in his work, says that the way in which Dip hangs ‘might suggest alternative centres of gravity.’ (Quoted in unpublished correspondence with a Tate curator, April 2003.)

Further reading

Richard Wentworth, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London 1993.
Richard Wentworth, exhibition catalogue, Kunstverein Freiburg, Freiburg 1997.
Richard Wentworth, exhibition catalogue, Lisson Gallery, London 1984.

Helen Delaney
April 2003