John Latham: Time Base and the Universe

Oct 29, 2006–Jan 8, 2007


P.S.1 proudly presents Time Base and the Universe, an exhibition of approximately thirty works by the late British artist John Latham (1921-2006). Conceived with the artist prior to his death in January 2006, the show surveys the major stages of his career, spanning over fifty years. Time Base and the Universe is on view in the second floor Main Gallery from October 29, 2006 through January 8, 2007.

"John Latham is an artist's artist," notes David Thorp, curator of the exhibition. "His significance places him between Joseph Beuys and Robert Rauschenberg as someone whose ideas and influence have helped to shape late twentieth century art."

With his uncompromising endeavor to explore some of the most complex cosmological ideas through art and due to his criticism of the art market, Latham was both acclaimed and vilified in his lifetime. Visceral and enigmatic, his work encompassed sculpture, performance, installation, film, conceptual, and book art. Creating a unified theory of existence, Latham combined art, science, and philosophy, thus challenging the views of professionals in each field. "Event structure" was the main sustaining principle of his art and suggests that the most basic component of reality is not the particle, as understood through physics, but a "least event" or the shortest departure from a state of nothing.

The works in Time Base and the Universe investigate these ideas. In 1954, Latham was the first painter in England to use spray paint, a method that signified a least event on canvas (representing nothingness). In the early 1960s, Latham began working with books as a medium, creating relief structures emerging from plaster on canvas. This series of Skoob—"books" spelled backwards—works suggest a human presence and portray the divisions in knowledge that can emerge from a single source. Later works incorporated glass (the transparency of which renders it more minimal than a white surface), while the more recent cosmological A Cluster of 11, features exploding, globe-like masses of books, plaster, and wire.

Time Base Roller forms the centerpiece of the exhibition, and directly illustrates Latham's concept of "Flat Time." Comprising a rotating cylinder, a striped canvas strip unrolls via a motor to demonstrate the continuing passage of time. Inscriptions on the back of the roller represent the memory of the past, akin to a musical score. Other works in the exhibition include N U Niddrie, God is Great, and a selection of short films made throughout Latham's career.

John Latham (1921-2006) created influential artworks throughout his career which spanned more than five decades. Latham has had numerous international exhibitions at institutions including the Barbican Art Gallery and Lisson Gallery, London, UK; Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland; Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, Germany; and Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris, France. Latham's work is in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Tate Gallery, London, among other major museums. He was featured in the 2005 Venice Biennale and was the subject of a recent retrospective at the Tate Britain in London.

John Latham: Time Base and the Universe is organized by P.S.1 International Adjunct Curator David Thorp, and is done in collaboration between P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center and the John Hansard Gallery in Southampton, UK, where it was exhibited from July 4 through August 26, 2006. A catalogue published by the John Hansard Gallery will feature a joint foreword by P.S.1 Director Alanna Heiss and John Hansard Gallery Director Stephen Foster, with essays by Mr. Thorp and John Latham's son, Noa Latham, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Calgary. Also included are a selection of interview excerpts, including highlights from an interview between the artist and Heiss.


Installation images

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