Richard Wentworth



Not on display

Richard Wentworth born 1947
Wood, steel, chrome, brass, lead and cable
Object: 860 × 425 × 495 mm
Presented by Janet Wolfson de Botton 1996


The title of this 1985 work employs the kind of wordplay that has delighted Richard Wentworth throughout his career: Siege refers not only to the notion of being under attack, but also to the French word for seat (siège). Two wood laminate and chromed steel chairs are tightly stacked, one on top of the other. As is typical of Wentworth's raw materials, the chairs are common, easily available objects. In a 1997 interview, Wentworth remarked: 'I think those chairs are pretty extraordinary. They are in a funny cultural space - they know about Modernism. They give the lie to that "truth to materials" nonsense - the steel is plated, the seat and back are laminated. Faux-'60s comes of age…It is funny seeing the chairs in a photograph because they suddenly look rather classic, but actually they were bought in Kentish Town for £4.25 a knock.' (Quoted in Contemporary Art, 1998, p.104.)

However, unlike most stacking chairs these two cannot be prised apart easily. A small slot has been cut into each seat and a pulley wheel has been inserted into one. The chairs are attached to each other by a wire that loops over the pulley and passes through both slots. Hanging from each end of the wire are two heavy lead balls, swinging freely just below the lower seat. Wentworth has likened these balls to 'a gaucho's bolas' - a missile used by South American herdsmen to ensnare animals. He has also spoken of their 'stupidity', in that 'all they can do is roll against each other'. The lead balls' obvious reference to masculinity wittily combines a sense of both vulnerability and entrapment, of being 'prey to our own desires' as Wentworth puts it.

This approach - taking a mundane utilitarian object and transforming its role and identity - is typical of Wentworth's sculpture in the mid-1980s. He establishes a double role for such everyday, manufactured objects as buckets (Yellow Eight Tate T06528), chairs and ladders (35º9', 32º18' Tate T07167), and disrupts their conventional significance. While he is always careful to retain the defining characteristics of the objects he works with, Wentworth's subtle alterations block their usual functions. Everyday household objects thus assume new identities as works of art, embodying thereafter both the familiar and the unfamiliar.

Further reading:
Richard Wentworth, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London 1993, reproduced p.25 in colour.
Richard Wentworth, exhibition catalogue, Kunstverein Freiburg, Freiburg 1997.
Contemporary Art: The Janet Wolfson de Botton Gift, exhibition catalogue Tate Gallery, London, 1998, pp.102-4, reproduced p.68 in colour.

Helen Delaney
July 2001

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Display caption

Wentworth’s sculptures often utilise common objects and easily available materials, combined in extraordinary ways. ‘Like a gaucho’s bolas, one chair ensnares the other’, the artist has said of this work. The title relates to the French word for seat (siège) as well as the English idea of being under siege. Wentworth has explained that the sculpture stemmed from ‘a very different moment in gender politics, and it is now more common to discuss how pathetic men are. I used to think most of the time that I feel pathetic – and why shouldn’t one make work about that?’

Gallery label, February 2011

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