Richard Wentworth was – or was not – born in Samoa. It is hard to know and it hardly matters. Actually, it is gratifying that the place of Wentworth’s birth is something of a mystery. Such beautiful nonsense lays the groundwork for an ensuing existence that finds value in the “semantics of everyday life,” as described in the artist’s bio for Lisson Gallery. He faithfully questions the significance of any distinction between the fine and the banal. Having emerged as an artist of a particular point of view in the 1970s, he was among a group, identified as he the New British Sculpture movement, who fundamentally altered traditional definitions and perceptions of sculpture. Today, Richard Wentworth is one the most influential artists alive in Britain.
With ideas that simply cannot be contained in a single practice and must be shared, Wentworth is an accomplished teacher, artist and curator. Teaching at Goldsmith’s College between 1971 and 1987, his influence was clearly felt by a group of students who came to be known as the YBAs (Young British Artists). In addition to Goldsmith’s, he taught at Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford University and is currently the head of Sculpture at The Royal College of Art. His curatorial efforts include Thinking Aloud at Kettle’s Yard and Boule to Braid at Lisson Gallery in 2009. In 1996, Wentworth’s Marking the Parish Boundaries was the first public art project to be funded by the National Lottery. With an extensive international exhibition record, Wentworth was included, with Fischli & Weiss and Gabriel Orozco, in Aprendiendo menos in 2000 at Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City and in 2005 Tate Liverpool showed his work in the museum’s largest and most comprehensive exhibition to date. In 2009 Wentworth was represented by work in both the Giardini and Arsenale for the 53rd Venice Biennale as well as being chosen for La Biennale de Montréal. Other recent group exhibitions include Just around the corner at La Casa Encendid in Madrid, Cabinet of Curiosities at Whitechapel Art Gallery and Mythologies at Haunch of Venison in London in 2009; Bookends at James Fuentes in New York in 2010; Through the looking brain at Kunstmuseum Bonn in 2011; and The Sculpture Show at the National Galleries of Edinburgh in 2012. His most recent solo exhibitions include Richard Wentworth: Three Guesses at Whitechapel Gallery opening in 2010 and Sidelines at Museu da Farmacia in Lisbon this past year.
Also in 2011, Richard Wentworth was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the New Year Honors for services to art. An interesting, and perhaps perfect, designation for an artist who champions the mundane and over looked.
“The once mute … appears intimate and troubling … Reconfigured as art, these components own a gravitational field which draws you into their world, whatever that stilled yet heady place, in which appearances, values and sensations are the same but rearranged…” —Michael Bracewell, ‘So Much Depends’: An Introduction to the Art of Richard Wentworth for Richard Wentworth, Tate
A curator’s confession: My heart aches for the work that is absent in this exhibition. Such is certainly true with the work of Richard Wentworth. The sincerity of every piece he presents fills me with love and makes me resent the cruel realities of curating a show. Nevertheless, the piece made available by the artist and his gallery for where is the power, is enormously satisfying in its signature matter-of-factness, absurdity and melancholy.
Thus, two black canes touchingly joined, is installed above eyelevel. In The Tears of Things, Melancholy and the Physical Object, Peter Schwenger unknowingly speaks to the “where” in where is the power as he writes of another of Wentworth’s walking stick sculptures, “Merely hooking a black cane over a glass rectangle projected near a gallery ceiling makes Walking Stick, 1987, jauntily free of any human step, into a pure and soaring line. This is a readymade, transformed merely by its position.”
Inevitably, Wentworth’s walking sticks reward the viewer who locates one of the precariously perched canes with what feels like a private exchange between a thing and its beholder, an interaction that might change the world if not for the silent agreement that it be kept a secret between the two – bringing to mind Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s claim in The Phenomenology of Perception, “It can literally be said that our senses question things and that things reply to them.”