Critics’ Picks

Richard Wentworth, Writing History, 2019, galvanized chicken wire, wood trestle leg, bricks, 20 7/8 × 33 7/8 × 29 7/8 ''.

Richard Wentworth, Writing History, 2019, galvanized chicken wire, wood trestle leg, bricks, 20 7/8 × 33 7/8 × 29 7/8 ''.

Madrid

Richard Wentworth

Nogueras Blanchard | Madrid
Doctor Fourquet 4
September 12–November 9, 2019

Long before artists had Instagram, Richard Wentworth began documenting moments of accidental sculpture encountered on city streets, ultimately collecting them in his ongoing photo series “Making Do and Getting By.Banal yet uncanny, those abandoned household objects, tangles of construction debris, and DIY patch jobs described a kind of assemblage motivated not by taste, but by something more practical and desperate. The sculptures in “Lecciones Aprendidas” (Lessons Learned), Wentworth’s current show at Nogueras Blanchard, aim to emulate this provisional quality.

Writing History (all works cited, 2019) is composed of a feeble sawhorse turned on its side to rest upon a few stacked bricks, its thin metal joints straining under the weight of a thick roll of galvanized chicken wire. Other works hang high to be viewed from below, lending them an acute sense of precariousness. In An abrupt history of distribution, a cherry-red gas canister dangling from a desktop paper organizer first evokes one of Wile E. Coyote’s ACME bombs in mid-drop, until a cheerful graphic on its opposite side reveals that it contains only helium. In Echo Chamber, a paperback copy of Harold Nicolson’s Why Britain is at War appears encased inside a glass pitcher hanging from a steel rod near the ceiling. Written in 1939, the book was a polemical treatise in favor of Britain’s entry into World War II, but here the author’s reasoning is kept out of reach, and the question of “At war with whom?” is left to linger .  

Wentworth has taught art since the early 1970s, and his approach as artist-teacher is palpable throughout “Lecciones Aprendidas.” Accomplishing much with only a little, each piece doubles as a sharp object lesson on some sculptural principle: weight, tension, balance, interior, density. Seen now in the twilight of Brexit, the show also reads as an allegory for Wentworth’s own Englishness as something porous, prone to scattered bits of influence, partial translations, and dumb luck.