Richard Wentworth



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Not on display

Richard Wentworth born 1947
Photograph, inkjet print on paper
Image: 315 × 415 mm
Presented by the artist and Lisson Gallery, London in honour of Sir Nicholas Serota 2019


Glasgow 2018 2018 is a landscape-format colour photograph by the British artist Richard Wentworth. It is from a series of approximately one hundred photographs of female lips taken from advertising billboards and posters found in the streets by the artist, whose forefinger systematically pokes at the bottom lip in each image. The series, Passer-by 2010–ongoing, and the photographs’ titles – each referring to the place and year where the photographs were taken – map out Wentworth’s personal encounters with these everyday consumerist images during walks in the streets of London and around Britain and the world (see also from this series Paris 2015 2015, Tate P20970). The same principle also forms the basis of his ongoing series Making Do and Getting By and Occasional Geometries, started in the late 1970s, in which the urban landscape becomes the theatre for unnoticed, incongruous chance happenstances. Speaking about this series, Wentworth commented:

‘We become accustomed to natural partners – the door and its doormat. When their positions are disrupted something fundamental happens. The displaced doormat has a new identity, a shift of an inch or two changes it from passive to active. Such adjustments invigorate tired and overlooked relationships, as the contradiction, humour and absurdity of the new alliance presents itself.’
(Quoted in Lisson Gallery 1984, p.7.)

In Glasgow 2018 the glossiness of the image of the lips and their blown-up scale contrast with the artist’s index finger pointing at them. The smoothness of the billboard paper and the reflective, translucid surface in which it is encased, reinforce the lacquered and lustrous texture of the photographed lips. In this series of photographs Wentworth allies his own body with the anonymous, commodified female body, through the gesture of poking at the images; it is as if the finger could trigger a reaction from the half-opened, silent lips, creating a humorous and absurd relationship.

Unlike most of Wentworth’s works, in which the human body is not represented but rather alluded to, the series Passer-by includes the artist’s own body as well as the female body, but seen through advertising images that are two-dimensional, flattened and manipulated. A sense of monstrosity is conveyed by the contrasting scales of the lips and the artist’s finger, undermining the seductive and glamorous quality of the lips. The framing of the photographs – showing just the female lips and Wentworth’s forefinger testifying to his presence in front of the advertisement – focus attention on the quality and details of the advertising medium, be it a rucked-up poster, a rain-soaked billboard or a perforated and degraded surface. The advertising image thus acquires a new identity, one that is sculptural.

At the core of Wentworth’s practice is the repositioning of everyday objects, transforming how we read their primary function and identity. Curator and art historian Lynne Cooke has described the subject of Making Do and Getting By and Occasional Geometries, which can also be applied to Passer-by, as the enquiry into ‘certain kinds of anomaly found in everyday experience. These anomalies are the outcome of a specific set of circumstances, of chance and coincidence. He eschews the overtly bizarre, the extraordinary and the utterly untoward, for the occurrences which interest him are generally overlooked, simply not noticed in the normal course of events.’ (In Lisson Gallery 1984, p.6.) Portraits of half-opened mouths, the Passer-by series illustrates Wentworth’s interest in language, etymologies and the mutability of the meaning of words, images and objects. By editing the images to show only the women’s lips, Wentworth removes the information included in the advertisement, while at the same time literally poking fun at the well-worn commercial trope of feminine lips coloured with lipstick.

Further reading
Lynne Cooke, ‘Making Good’, in Richard Wentworth, exhibition catalogue, Lisson Gallery, London 1984.
Richard Wentworth, Sculptures, exhibition catalogue, Lisson Gallery, London 1986.
Richard Wentworth, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool 2005.

Elsa Coustou
August 2018

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