John Latham

John Latham, photographed by Clive Phillpot at the opening of the exhibition <i>Live in Your Head</i> at the Whitechapel Gallery on 3 February 2000.
John Latham, photographed by Clive Phillpot at the opening of the exhibition Live in Your Head at the Whitechapel Gallery on 3 February 2000. Courtesy Clive Phillpot. Image not licensed for reuse.

Biography

John Latham

John Latham was a conceptual artist working in sculpture, painting, performance, installation, film and assemblage. He taught at St Martin’s School of Art (1966-1967). Fiercely opposed to the dominance of the American art critic, Clement Greenberg, he borrowed a copy of Greenberg’s influential book, Art and Culture, from the St Martin’s School library and invited his students to join him in chewing and spitting out the pages. The chewed pulp was then mixed with chemicals and yeast and left to ferment, after which Latham returned the work to St Martin’s in a phial. He was dismissed from his teaching post for this act. The phial is now part of Latham’s Still and Chew: Art and Culture 1966-1967 in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. To hear more about this performative event see Gareth Bell-Jones’s essay on Voices of art.

Solo exhibitions of John Latham’s work include his first one-man show at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1960); Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, Germany (1975); Société des Expositions du Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium (1984); The Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (1991); Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, Germany (1991); Mattress Factory, Pittsburg, USA (1996); Tate Britain, London (2005); P.S.1. Contemporary Art Center, New York, USA (2006); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2010); Henry Moore Institute, Leeds (2016); Serpentine Galleries (2017); and Lisson Gallery (2018). Latham also exhibited at documenta 6, Germany (1977); Triennale di Milano, Italy (2014); and at the Venice Biennale, Italy (2017).

John Latham married the artist Barbara Steveni in 1951. In 1966 Steveni and Latham formed the Artist’s Placement Group (APG), an organisation that placed artists in positions within government, industry and commerce.

Between 1998 and 2000, John Latham was recorded by Melanie Roberts for Artists’ Lives. His life story can be heard on the British Library Sounds website. A written summary is available on the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image Catalogue.

Biography and education

John Latham was born on 23 February 1921 in Livingstone, Northern Rhodesia (now Maramba, Zambia), to English parents. His father worked for the colonial civil service. Latham studied at Winchester College before joining the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during the Second World War. In 1946 Latham studied art at Regent Street Polytechnic, and from 1946 – 1950 he attended Chelsea School of Art.

John Latham died on 1 January 2006 in London, aged 84. John Latham’s studio and home in Peckham, London, is now a gallery with a programme that continues to explore Latham’s artistic practice. The building, Flat Time House (FTHo), also houses the John Latham archive.

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