Thursday, March 10, 2016

John Latham | Art and Culture

John Latham
Art and Culture, 1966–69
Leather case containing book, letters, photostats, and labeled vials filled with powders and liquids
7.9 x 28.2 x 25.3 cm. 
Unique work

The St Martin’s School of Art was a prestigious art college in London, England that was founded in 1854. Sculptors Anthony Caro, Robert Clatworthy, Elizabeth Frink and Eduardo Paolozzi taught at the school, and it's alumni include Peter Doig, Gilbert & George, Anthony Gormley and Richard Long.

John Latham was teaching there in 1966, when he withdrew a copy of Art and Culture by Clement Greenberg from the school's library. Still and Chew was an event he organized at his home with his friend Barry Flanagan, where party guests were invited to tear out pages of the book, and chew on them. When fully masticated, the pages were spit out into a flask. "Greenberg’s text was thus reconstituted as indigestible matter." 

Latham then transformed the pages into a brew with the addition of chemicals and yeast ("an alien culture"). The artist stored this concoction for almost a year, until receiving an urgent overdue notice from the library. He decanted the distilled mass into a glass jar labelled ‘Art and Culture’ and returned it in place of the book. He was fired the following day and never taught again. 

A copy of the book, the distilled pages in vials, the library notices and a copy of his dismissal letter were housed in a suitcase and sold to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 1969. It was subsequently featured in several prominent exhibitions. 

In a post at, the artist/novelist/historian dismantles the above myth with an obsessiveness bordering on vendetta. He argues that Latham was on a temporary contract that was merely not renewed, noting that lecturers "aren't dismissed from their teaching posts for failing to return library books". He goes on to posit several other reasons that the school may have "dismissed" Latham, including theft, drug dealing, and anger at how much time the artist spent working on personal projects, such as The Artist's Placement Group. 

It's a pretty fascinating read, with art detective work worthy of Check it out here

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