PRINT April 1985


THE ENGLISH HAVE HOBBIES. They grow giant marrows or make models of Westminster Abbey out of matchsticks. Richard Wentworth takes snapshots of ad hoc maneuvers we see every day but never give a second glance. Following Bernard Rudofsky, who wrote of “architecture without architects,” it might be possible to call Wentworth’s events “sculpture without sculptors” but for two reasons. First, they bear the same relation to Michelangelo’s David as a MacDonald’s burger does to a gourmet dinner: Second, they are the result of no intention beyond that of answering a sudden need as quickly as possible. Over the years Wentworth has made it a point of honor that the “works” he captures demand no skill, no care, no time, and no money. Exceptions are weeded out of a collection which numbers well over a thousand images.

1979 Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire. Misanthropic bird-fancier keeps garage door chained on inside so that house martins can fly in and out but human beings are repelled.

1977, Lancashire. In the North of England spade handles are T-shaped, in the South they are Y-shaped. By careful grafting a thrifty gardener has cultivated a hybria.

1974, Huntingdon Street, Barnsbury, London. Paint on a shared iron fence their choice of arms, good manners and the territorial imperative fight to the death in a smart residential street.

1979, Islington, London. Homage to Claes Oldenburg—if it is involved in any more collisions this car could end up a soft toy. More than faintly obscene, the driver’s attempt to conceal a crushed wing is a response to modern technology; we can’t repair our cars ourselves, yet disrepair is not tolerated.

1982, Ampney Ciucis, near Cirencester. The Master of the Black Drape. Suspecting that others might be as bored as he is with the stalls at a local fête, a sports lover whose drawing room gives onto the village green devises a method by which they too can enjoy the big match on television. A single length of dark cloth keeps his windows open, shades the picture, and dramatizes his benevolent gesture. This simple but moving act of homage can only hint at the reverence in which the British hold their national sport.

1980, near Presteigne, Powys. Old and new meet and embrace fondly. These people have moved their house through 90 degrees; what seems odder is their continuing affection for the previous orientation. Or perhaps they just can’t be bothered to demolish the stone walls.

1982, somewhere in France. An autoroute. Impetuous motorist wants to tell fellow travelers that the telephone indicated by this sign is broken. The problem—to show that while there is a telephone here, it is temporarily out of action—is solved by applying neither too little tape nor too much.

1974, King’s Cross, London. Why let dissatisfaction sith seating arrangements spoil your motoring pleasure?

1980, King’s Cross, London. A bank’s clock has stopped. Wishing to avoid confusion, an absentminded employee has affixed to it a letter informing a customer of an overdrawn account. But thoughtlessness and bad manners do not necessarily go hand in hand. The letter has been turned back to front, preventing embarrassment and saving the day.