Contemporary Art Market: Critic's words worth eating: Subversive fun from Swinging Sixties now on display at Nineties prices

Dalya Alberge
Sunday 18 April 1993 23:02

A photograph of the remains of a book that an artist chewed, spat out into a jar and distilled because he disliked its contents is for sale at the England & Co gallery in west London. Its price: pounds 2,350.

Study for Art and Culture by John Latham, dating from the late Sixties, is a photographic record of the artist's disgust with the book of the same title by Clement Greenberg, the influential American critic. What finally drove Mr Latham to eat the book was receiving a letter from the librarian at St Martin's School of Art requesting its 'very urgent' return a year after he had borrowed it. Latham, regarded as a major artist, did indeed return it - in its distilled form. He was sacked from the school's teaching staff. The photograph at England & Co displays the jar, and the envelope from the librarian bearing Mr Latham's name.

'It is a unique photopieceof a Sixties 'event', doing subversive things with books,' claimed Jane England, of the gallery. She added that the absence of a negative makes this a one- off work, though the actual distillation exists, in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Her show, staged to complement the Barbican Sixties exhibition, includes another Latham work involving two books which he chose not to eat. Instead, he stuck them on a canvas. The wall-hung sculpture's title, Are you Being Converted?, is taken from one of the two books; the other is a prayer book. It is priced at pounds 2,350.

Ms England's choice of exhibits was dictated both by a wish to cover a wide range of prices ( pounds 100 to pounds 15,000) and the association with 'seminal Sixties events'. She has, for example, Clive Barker's painted version of a letter he received from Wormwood Scrubs prison telling him he was not allowed to write to Robert Fraser, the dealer arrested with Mick Jagger in 1967 for smoking dope. It is priced at pounds 7,500. A print of it is in the Barbican show.

She also has abstracts by William Green, the action painter who energetically cycled over his paintings and inspired Tony Hancock's film, The Rebel. There are a couple of Mr Green's small-scale works on paper, including an abstract in ink created not with a bicycle but a stick.

Her choice ranges from loud pop art to cool abstractions by the Situation artists. There is Peter Blake's Babe Rainbow, 1967, a cool bikini-clad Sixties girl on a sheet of tin framed by psychedelic colours, mass-produced in the Sixties. The artist recalls that they were sold for pounds 1 in Carnaby Street, London: it seemed that every bathroom and kitchen had them then, but because they rusted or dented, most were discarded. Today the price is pounds 450.

Like the Barbican show, the theme of several exhibits at England & Co is fun. Here is Bruce Lacey's The Politician, a robotic-machine topped by a bulging, bloodshot eye, with a massive mouth that blows hot air; and Jan Howarth's Lindner Dolly with Steinberg Clothes - a Homage, a grotesquely fat version of the Barbie doll. The wall- hung figure comes with several changes of clothes. 'She can also be displayed naked,' Ms England said. 'In fact, she came naked, but I thought she was better clothed.' The prices are pounds 2,500 and pounds 3,750 respectively. The Politician has already been sold; the doll is still available.

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