Magazine article Artforum International

John Latham; WHITECHAPEL GALLERY/KARSTEN SCHUBERT/ LISSON GALLERY

Magazine article Artforum International

John Latham; WHITECHAPEL GALLERY/KARSTEN SCHUBERT/ LISSON GALLERY

Article excerpt

John Latham, who died in 2006 at the age of eighty-four, remains best known for encouraging students at Saint Martins School of Art to chew up pages from the library's copy of Clement Greenberg's Art and Culture and returning the book as fermented spittle. The action (organized with Barry Flanagan) cost Latham his part-time job and established his provocative and, some might say, profoundly unscholarly reputation. Several exhibitions in London this past summer showed that it is the right moment to reassess Latham's work and influence, not only beyond the Greenberg-chewing story but also, crucially, beyond the critical framework established by the artist. Latham's famously cranky theorizing and eccentric scientific aspirations were fascinating but incomprehensible, and were delivered without the irony that might have elevated them into the realm of poetic interpretation. Where books are mangled, so, it might be said, are words and ideas.

The greatest discovery in this reassessment is that of Latham as pioneer avant-garde filmmaker. A DVD set of all his films is being released this month; over the summer, along with other screenings and a condensed survey of his work, the Whitechapel Gallery showed his rarely seen "Target" series, commissioned for Channel 4 Television in 1984: abstract compositions of flashing target forms combined with urban imagery reminiscent of the experimental films of Len Lye. Alongside were exhibited monochrome spray-painted works, a table of books bisected with glass (Table of Law, 1988), and pieces from the "Planets (Clusters)" series, hanging spheres made of plaster, books, and other items--as well as a selection from the John Latham Archive (kept at Flat Time House, the artist's former residence in South London, where two studies for the multipanel work The Story of Rio, 1983, were recently on view). One of these archival documents relates to his first exhibition, in 1949 at the Kingly Gallery, London, with John Berger, and others refer to the Artist Placement Group, which Latham established with his wife, Barbara Steveni, to place artists in business and government. Most intriguing is Latham's 1988 letter to Margaret Thatcher stating that a "very basic discovery" he had made regarding the connection of art and science required approval at the highest level of the British government. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.