Magazine article Art Monthly

John Latham 1921-2006

Magazine article Art Monthly

John Latham 1921-2006

Article excerpt

John Latham, who died on New Year's Day, fundamentally changed the way we think about the world around us. The breadth of his influence and the nature of his vision are only now gradually being understood and embraced. Tate Britain's current exhibition of his work--shamefully an augmented collection display rather than the full retrospective he deserves--is a case in point. Tate's decision not to show God is Great, 1991, in this survey was characteristically attacked as 'censorship' and 'cowardice' by Latham who had for almost 40 years been a thorn in the side of the Arts Council and other bureaucratic institutions. The ensuing debate--including a staged discussion at Tate Britain (see AM292)--came down overwhelmingly on the side of Latham and the support for an increased vigilance about current erosions of freedoms of speech and expression, especially in the face of ongoing legislation.

The root of Latham's work rests--as for many artists of his generation--on a focus on process rather than finished object, which he came to define as an 'event structure'. His art was also a model for new ways of thinking about the origin and nature of the world in which the artist is designated as an 'incidental person' and the mark made by spray gun points to a category of 'least event' that provides 'a new means of representing histories from a zero (atemporal) state'. Latham attacked narrow professional specialisations and ranged across disciplines from philosophy to physics and science, searching for a single unified theory, a 'psychophysical cosmology', rather than a set of disconnected divided theories. For Latham, books embodied defined, compartmentalised and fixed bodies of knowledge arranged across a linear field apprehended sequentially--qualities that he questioned by fixing a range of fragmented books in plaster, canvas or glass, burning them in tower structures, or chewing and distilling them as he famously did to Clement Greenberg's book Art & Culture in 1966. …

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