The Man Who Ate "Art and Culture"

John Latham (1921-2006), The Mechanical Bride by Marshall McLuhan, ca. 1969. Altered book. Gift of William Howard Adams. Graphic Arts GAX Oversize 2006-0384Q.

In 1966, conceptual artist John Latham (1921-2006) had a part-time teaching job at St. Martin’s School of Art in London. One day, he went to the school library and borrowed a copy of Clement Greenberg’s Art and Culture. Latham invited his students to participate in one of his “event-based” art works by chewing pages of the book into a pulp, which was then dissolved, distilled, and the fermented liquid sealed in several glass vials. When Latham received an overdue notice from the library, he attempted to return a vial (housed in a leather case, just like the book) but the librarian rejected it as unreadable. Latham’s teaching contract was not renewed but the artwork, entitled “Chew and Spit: Art and Culture,” was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

That same year, William Howard Adams met Latham, possibly through the Fluxus symposium at which Latham set fire to a tower of books outside the British Museum. Adams suggested Latham do something with Marshall McLuhan’s book The Mechanical Bride, and gave the artist a copy. Three years later, Latham returned the volume, altered and autographed. This “event-based” object was donated to the Princeton University Library’s graphic arts collection, where it can be seen today. Special thanks to Hannes Mandel for this discovery.

For more information on Latham, see John Albert Walker, John Latham: the Incidental Person (London: Middlesex University Press, 1995). Marquand library SA Oversize N6797.L37 W344 1995Q

International edible books festival, April 1 each year: