An Area of Outstanding Unnatural Beauty

Richard Wentworth

Vacant plumbing store, King's Cross, London
03 September 2002 - 17 November 2002

‘I have no sympathy,’ says Wentworth, ‘for people who say “They’re going to spoil King’s Cross.” Not long ago, before the railway marched into London, there were sheep grazing here! Preservation culture is a serious English disease. When Norman Foster revealed his intention to site the new station between King’s Cross and St Pancras, the Victorian Society rushed to prevent it by putting a preservation order on the Great Northern Hotel. Change is relentless, there’s no way of stopping it; but I think in terms of mutability and exchange – transmogrification – rather than of loss. You can’t presume to possess or lay claim to a city. We are only guests.’ – Sarah Kent, Time Out

At the moment when the immanent construction of the high-speed Channel Tunnel rail link was set to begin a new phase in this area of North London’s history, Richard Wentworth, who has lived in King’s Cross for more than 25 years, temporarily took over a vacated general plumbing store on York Way and devised an open-ended, multi-layered programme of interactive events, including walks, talks, films and a table tennis tournament.

Image: Table tennis tables from above at the former General Plumbing Supplies on York Way, London, 2002. Photograph: Unknown 

Dear James

A letter from Richard Wentworth to James Lingwood
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Dear James 

A Letter by Richard Wentworth

You asked me for a title. How's An Area of Outstanding Unnatural Beauty? King's Cross is baffling. We've been chasing it for three years and it's still eluding us. I both admire and fear it, but in the right proportions that's exactly the combination which makes a project take off. This week all the magnetic filings are beginning to line up - meetings with table tennis manufacturers (French, of course), organisers of table tennis tournamen­ts, people who make stairwells in second-hand shipping containers, periscope makers, the people who used to draw the A-Z freehand, street by street, and, vitally, you securing our use of the abandoned plumber's chants on York Way, Coincidentally, demolition began yesterday in Railway Street, so the feeling of instability is moving to the next phase. ‘Lost Property’ writ large and physical.

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Image: A map of King's Cross, London covered in pins. Photograph: Richard Wentworth


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This is art as geography, as social history, as mass observation. – Richard Dorment, The Telegraph

Selected Press

Thanks to Wentworth’s engaging, humorous take on everything he touches, the show is hugely entertaining - so much so that I forgot to ask myself what it all had to do with art. Then, after I’d left the show and stepped out into York Way, I realised that the work of art wasn’t to be found on the premises of General Plumbing Supplies, but in the streets around me. ... Wentworth’s genius is to make us see the world from the fresh and original perspectives that he does, and to make us aware that, if London is a living city, it is simultaneously a dying one. Places we have known all our lives will become a memory in 10 years’ time. – Richard Dorment, The Telegraph, 4 September 2002

The project’s title subverts the dreary legislation of preservation, and raises the question: should we, or can we, preserve what is wonderful about this place? The past is at the centre of Unnatural Beauty, but if it merely indulged in picturesque decay it would be no more that National Trust nostalgia. In fact Wentworth has achieved the opposite: a joyous riposte to those who think change means loss, and for whom character and identity (particularly Englishness) exist only in the past. – Michael Copeman, The Architects’ Journal, 26 September 2002

A British Library employee and a cab driver are hotly tipped to meet in the final of an unlikely art project in King’s Cross. In an old plumbing supplies centre in York Way, art has made a giant leap to meet table tennis in a quirky bid to celebrate the area’s diverse identity before it is lost to redevelopment. Ping, as it is called, has become a hot phenomenon with residents and workers, and the knockout tournament’s leader board reads like a list of local companies and landmarks. – Fiona Sibley, Highbury & Islington Express, 25 October 2002


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Who made this possible?


An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was supported by Bloomberg

Artangel is generously supported by Arts Council EnglandArtangel International Circle, Special AngelsGuardian Angels and The Company of Angels.