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Barbara Steveni. Photo: Flickr.
Barbara Steveni. Photo: Flickr.

Barbara Steveni (1928–2020)

British artist Barbara Steveni, who founded the conceptually and politically driven art organization Artist Placement Group (APG) with her partner John Latham in 1966 and maintained much of its collaborative and administrative functions for more than two decades, has died at the age of ninety-two years old.

The couple conceived of APG in 1965, and, after Steveni assembled a board of directors, the organization was formally established the following year. In the early 1970s, against the backdrop of ongoing discourses about the dematerialization of art, APG published print-based interventions in Studio International and was associated with the magazine during Peter Townsend’s editorship. Active through the 1990s but renamed O+I (Organisation and Imagination) in 1989, the group went on to install some twenty artists— including Ian Breakwell, Stuart Brisley, Barry Flanagan, David Hall, David Toop, and Anna Ridley—in “residencies” within government departments and industrial companies such as British Rail, British Steel, the London Zoo, and the National Coal Board. Their hope was that the interaction between artist and organization would encourage shifts in societal attitudes about value, currency, and artistic labor.

“With the benefit of hindsight, it’s evident that APG’s activities go straight to the core of contemporary debates about the functionality of art and the desirability of art’s having social goals,” wrote Claire Bishop in the October 2010 issue of Artforum. “Perhaps most significant, in the end, is APG’s effort to redirect the value of art away from demonstrable indexes and financial outcomes, and its championing of the notion of assessing value over a greatly extended time span. This contribution seems crucial to recent debates over socially engaged art, specifically to the question of how to evaluate such practices, and over what period such judgments should be made.”

Steveni was born in Iran in 1928. Her father worked in the Foreign Service, and her family moved to India when she was a child. From 1948 to 1951, she studied at the Chelsea School of Art, where she met Latham; they married in 1951. In recent decades, Steveni, who also taught at Chelsea, as well as at St. Martin’s School of Art and the Hornsey School of Art, continued her work of situating the group’s history through participatory walks through original APG project placement sites (I Am An Archive, 2002). Exhibitions of APG’s activities have been staged at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; Hayward Gallery, London; Raven Row, London; and Kunstraum Kreuzberg, Berlin.