John Latham’s work often involves books. Latham’s Little Red Mountain (1960–62) places books on a literal and metaphorical pedestal even while it destroys them. Stacked into a miniature mountain, each book becomes a treacherous cliff face. While “red” was shorthand for “Communist” during the postwar decades, the title Little Red Mountain also plays on the past tense of the verb “to read” – confirming the obsolescence of these books.
The British conceptual artits John Latham studied at the Chelsea School of Art in London during the second half of the 1940s. He emerged as a conceptual artist while experimenting in sculpture, painting (with spray paint), video, and film. Latham was concerned with his own philosophy of time and the critical examination of religious and scientific systems of knowledge. In 1958 he began to make assemblages and sculptures using books that had been torn, partially burnt, painted over, or otherwise demolished. Latham became famous for his seminal action in 1966, when he produced the first of his so-called “skoob” works (“books” spelled backward). While teaching at St. Martins School of Art, he invited his students to a quasi-ritualistic ceremony in which they chewed and spit out pages of art critic Clement Greenberg’s book Art and Culture. Equating destruction and creation, he then decanted the vestiges of the book into a vial and returned it to the school’s library. Latham and his wife, Barbara Stevini, founded the Artist Placement Group in 1966.