Richard Wentworth



Not on display

Richard Wentworth born 1947
Wood, plastic, iron and brass
Object: 890 × 1100 × 880 mm
Purchased 1984

Display caption

Richard Wentworth's sculpture typically takes mundane objects and transforms their role and identity. He gives everyday items like chairs, tables and buckets a double role, to disrupt their conventional significance. Shower demonstrates Wentworth's affection for the commonplace, combining a 1950s table and a model ship's propeller. The propeller is fixed to the table, as if to a boat, like childhood games in which items of furniture become imaginary vehicles. The plate suggests that the table is anchored to the floor. The title refers to a memory of seeing tilted tables outside a café during a heavy shower in Spain.

Gallery label, May 2007

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Catalogue entry

Richard Wentworth born 1947

T03924 Shower 1984

Modified kitchen table with iron plate, chain and brass propeller 890 x 1100 x 880 (35 1/4 x 43 1/4 x 35 5/8)
Not inscribed
Purchased from Lisson Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Exh: Richard Wentworth, Lisson Gallery, June-July 1984 (21); Modern British Sculpture: From the Collection, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Sept. 1988-1991 (no number, repr.)
Repr: ‘Recent Acquisitions of Twentieth Century Sculpture by English Museums', Burlington Magazine, vol.130, April 1988, p.331 no.104

The principal statements by the artist are from a letter to the compiler dated 30 December 1987; the source is indicated on each occasion. The shorter phrases quoted are from a conversation between the compiler and the artist on 17 December 1987.

T03924 was made in the artist's Finsbury studio in the early months of 1984. The five component parts of T03924 are all derived from very different sources; the artist likened their gathering together to ‘a dinner party' where the host decides in advance to try certain relationships of people. Wentworth wrote of the component parts:

There is a sense in which the additions to the table, even though made to look as though ‘that's how they come', are like jewellery on humans; emblems, points of attraction, badges of recognition ... Perhaps the idea of personal adornment can be extended and these parts are not ‘additions', rather accoutrements or accessories (letter of 30 December 1987).

The kitchen table was bought from a second-hand furniture shop/dealer at the end of the artist's street in north London. The table appealed to the artist for a variety of reasons. The two things that Wentworth feels we need in order to continue surviving are ‘tools and memories' (conversation with Stuart Morgan in Richard Wentworth, exh. cat., Lisson Gallery, 1984, p.15) and the kitchen table was an object full of meaning and memories for him. He assumes it dates from the mid-to-late 1950s and was available from a shop like Peter Jones. It is a well made object with legs of beech and a brightly coloured red laminate top. It is very close in kind to the kitchen table used in the Wentworth household when the artist was a young boy. For the artist the laminated top presents a resistant surface, impervious to traces and stains. It is a surface that repels rather than attracts and which is marketed as being hygienic. The artist wrote of the table: ‘I like the table as an early representative of the wipe aesthetic - formica as a more sophisticated skin than enamelled steel. Before that it was labour intensive scrubbing' (letter of 30 December 1987).

The brass propeller was bought by the artist after a visit with one of his sons to the National Maritime Museum. Wentworth found a model shop near to the museum which sold marine objects, all made in different scales from their counterparts in the museum. Another work by Wentworth which includes a propeller purchased at this same shop is Gosse, also of 1984, (private collection, London, repr. Lisson Gallery exh. cat. 1984, p.29). The propeller in Gosse is set inside a galvanised steel bath and the artist said that the title, a French word for a young boy, refers to the sort of games children play, in which they are capable of bringing about the metamorphosis of an object through the power of their imagination. They would see the galvanised steel bath as a boat. The propeller in T03924 functions in the same way because it imaginatively serves to power the table. The artist feels that ‘the propeller appeals physically before it does so intellectually'. Wentworth tried to make the cut in the table, which houses the propeller and its spindle, look as though it had always been there, in order that the propeller should appear as an integral part of the table. The propeller is set on a spindle so that it is not fixed and it can be spun. This aspect was important to the artist. Wentworth spoke of the shiny propeller as being ‘like an earring on the piece'.

The quarter-inch thick rusty iron plate was purchased from a scrapyard in Cirencester and the iron chain from a chainmaker in Abbey Street, Bermondsey. The eye which connects the plate to the chain was also bought in Bermondsey. Wentworth described the rusty iron plate as ‘the only bit of real sculpture' in T03924, an ironical reference to the genre of welded, rusted metal sculpture. The rusty metal plate gives the illusion of anchoring the table to the ground and the formal qualities of the chain and plate have a similar feel to the metal fixings that anchor the tables to the decks on cross-channel ferries. Therefore not only the propeller but also the chain and iron plate give a nautical feel to the kitchen table. The table is actually capable of standing on its own four legs, without the help of the iron plate anchor but the artist feels that the anchor makes the table ‘feel light and heavy at the same time'. He spoke of the table as being like ‘a wounded animal, like a roped steer brought down'. Wentworth also drew attention to another work of his in which one part functions as an anchor for another part. This work is entitled Glad that Things don't talk of 1982 (Saatchi Collection, repr. cover of Lisson Gallery exh. cat. 1984); it comprises a rubber overshoe which has attached to it a lead ball on the end of a curved piece of wire.

When T03924 was completed Wentworth recalled a photograph he had taken of tilted metal tables outside a café while on holiday in Sitges, Spain in April 1982. The tables had been left out while there had been a sudden shower of rain. He assumed that the tables were tilted over for one of two reasons, either to stop rain gathering on the table-tops, or to discourage customers, or perhaps both. This photograph is one in an ongoing series of photographs which Wentworth started in 1970. He calls this series ‘Making Do and Getting By' and the photographs record the impromptu and often whimsical resourcefulness of human beings who manipulate ordinary objects in order to improvise a temporary solution to a minor problem in their lives. The sudden Spanish shower had caused the tables to be manipulated in the way recorded in Wentworth's photograph. However, while the photograph did not serve as a visual model for T03924, the work's main theme, a tilted table, and the work's title derived from this source.

The artist was asked by the compiler about the illusory unstable nature of T03924. Other works by Wentworth also incline from a vertical position, for example ‘Siphon', 1984-5 (Saatchi Collection), ‘Year Ending' 1986 (private collection, London), ‘Housey-Housey' 1986, ‘Lutine', 1984/5 (private collection, Canada), ‘Store', 1986 (Centro Cultural de Arte Contempor neo, Mexico) and ‘Storey', 1986 (private collection, London) (all repr. Lisson Gallery exh. cat. 1986, pp.19, 28-9, 32-3, 37, 41 and 46-7). Wentworth spoke about this aspect of T03924: ‘suspended tripping has its own authority, dignity and vulnerability so long as things are not spilt'. In response to a question about when and how T03924 received its title of ‘Shower' Wentworth wrote:

this business of titling seems to have turned into a sort of trap. There are, like tunes, words and phrases that seem to ‘stick' but I don't have a rule. I like the act of naming (and the immediate anomalies it generates) but I just want things to feel APT, and this can be more or less impacted, compact, onomatopoeiac. Perhaps rhyme is the giveaway, since on the one hand it is gratuitous and open-ended and on the other, matching, and potentially resonant (I dislike the cliché of these two words) because of that co-incidence. Perhaps the reason I overemphasise the diverse origins of the things I use is like finding ‘useful' rhyme, where apt becomes fitting. The thing that this is most like is heraldry, where all sorts of hybrids (diverse images/scale/material) are legitimised. This appears, very corrupted, in titles of pubs (inevitable marriages, often pairs, which I seem drawn to) and in the sort of emblematic naming (often of complete rational inconsequence/irrational consequence) (letter of 30 December 1987, in which were enclosed three examples of cheap labelling and packaging - a box of matches, foreign make, entitled The Scissors Safety Match; a small padlock carton, made in China, entitled Diamond Brand; and a sticky label from a cotton handkerchief, made in China, entitled Double Fish).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.291-2

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