John Latham

Whitechapel Gallery/Karsten Schubert/Lisson Gallery

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

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