Still the same old song from the former Artists' Placement Group…

John Latham and the Artists’ Placement Group came up in conversation the other day. While I liked much of what Latham did, I always found the theoretical justifications for his work extremely dubious. Thus when through Latham I came into direct contact with the Artists’ Placement Group (APG) in the 1980s, I found it utterly ridiculous. Now that the APG is no longer a going concern and The Tate has purchased its archives, it is unfortunately easier for for those coming across it for the first time to take it rather more seriously than was the case with old hands who encountered it as a live entity.
I have heard rumours of a Leninist critique of the APG in an issue of Artery Magazine (edited by Jeff Sawtell and published from 1971 and 1984), but to date I have been unable to trace this. I wrote my own brief appraisal of the APG a year or two after first encountering the beast ‘up close and personal’, and this was published in Smile Magazine No. 10 (London 1987). It seems worthwhile reposting that here to remind people of the reactions the APG elicited when it was a going concern. Strangely (or perhaps not), in my encounters with Stuart Brisley and Ian Breakwell from the 1980s onwards, neither ever mentioned the APG to me.
When I first met Latham and his wife Barbara Steveni (who struck me as the real power and key activist in the APG), both spoke to me about the importance of the APG but neither seemed to understand my criticisms of it for retrenching the role of the artist as a specialist non-specialist (to resort to caricature, it was as if Latham and Steveni ‘had never encountered left-communism in all its originality, nor understood the nature of its break with the Third International…’). Anyway, here’s what I wrote way back when:
“Artistss’ Placement is intended to serve Art rather than provide a service for artists.” Barbara Steveni ‘Will Art Influence History?’ (in AND Journal of Art No. 9).
In the same article from which the preceding quote is extracted, Steveni elaborates that the ‘APG (Artists’ Placement Group) was never created as an agency to help artists find employment, or to create new forms of support for artists. APG is a means of generating change through the media of art rather than through verbal proceedings only, in the context of organisation’. Thus the APG seeks to propagate the concept of the placement of artists in government and industry. The ‘placed artist’ is to play the role of ‘incidental person’ and carry an open brief.
Such aims are at best reformist. For those who do not adhere to a ‘revolutionary perspective’ the idea of placing ‘incidental persons’ in government and industry might appear ‘radical’ if the concept were removed from the conservative framework within which the APG attempt to contain it.
However, close examination of the APG’s theory shows that in terms of its actual practice, the propagation of the concept of artists as ‘incidental persons’, is only a second order activity. Its first priority is clearly the maintenance of a belief in ‘Art’, and the role of the artist, in a society where such mystifications are increasingly viewed as irrelevant not only by the general population, but also by those whose system ‘Art’ once helped to maintain.
In effect, the APG is calling for the utilisation of specialists (artists) in a non-specialist role (the ‘incidental person’). Thus the APG hope to create for themselves (artists) a preserve as professional non-specialists, while excluding ordinary workers and the unemployed from fulfilling any ‘incidental’ function.
The APG are a professional self-interest group. Like all artists they stand in opposition to the aims and aspirations of the impossible class.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – – you know it makes (no) sense!


Comment by Tony Lowes on 2009-12-11 13:30:38 +0000

How can artists have shows when millions of peeople around the world have no shoes?

Comment by fi on 2009-12-11 17:13:39 +0000

would you time travel back to 30 years ago if you could?

Comment by Christopher Nosnibor on 2009-12-11 19:04:30 +0000

I didn’t know the meaning of glamour until I started shooting smack… Now I’m a star.

Comment by Christopher Nosnibor on 2009-12-11 19:05:58 +0000

Wasn’t this article actually in SMILE 10?

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-12-11 19:58:10 +0000

Oops, you’ve obviously been checking the old issues. Issue 9 was from 1986, and yes this is from Smile 10, which is 1987, so I had the date correct but not the number… But I’ve changed that now!
And Fi, wasn’t 30 years ago the year of Thatcher’s election, so perhaps 1979 wasn’t the greatest year ever in London!

Comment by fi on 2009-12-11 20:53:13 +0000

would you time travel back to 30 years ago if you could?
i didnt say that. someone is coming in here pretending to be me again. this multiple identity thing has stopped being funny ages ago.

Comment by Christopher Nosnibor on 2009-12-11 21:56:53 +0000

Strange sense of deja vu….
But didn’t Bergson say that repetition was the foundation of humour?

Comment by Henry Flynt on 2009-12-11 22:52:00 +0000

Down with art! Down with the Artists’ Placement Group! Up with brend!

Comment by Henri Bergson on 2009-12-11 22:54:37 +0000

I could have sworn somebody else said that….

Comment by Zen Master K on 2009-12-11 23:59:15 +0000

What we need is an Alcoholics’ Placement Group to ensure there are plenty of alchofrolics in government and industry! Forward with potent cocktails and the all new APG (alcoholic variety)!

Comment by Cap Ital on 2009-12-12 00:21:51 +0000

Latham was a raving loony. I should know…

Comment by Cassandra Thomas on 2009-12-12 00:34:29 +0000

wow. i actually agree with this :D. now back to my powerpoint art

Comment by The Ghost of John Latham on 2009-12-12 01:36:59 +0000

I’m mad, bad, and dangerous to know – and The Tate bought my shit while I was still alive!

Comment by simone stateagent on 2009-12-12 08:41:24 +0000

but forgery is where it’s at, man

Comment by Alladin Sane on 2009-12-12 09:36:52 +0000

Please explain what is left-communism in all its originality, and what is nature of its break with the Third International coz i can’t find it on google.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-12-12 10:10:47 +0000

What you’re asking about is a quote from Jacques Camatte, so go and read him. But I’d stick to the earlier stuff and not the latter writings that get primitivists excited (although they don’t seem to know Camatte in the round, or in the buff for that matter either). There was an English language book anthology of his stuff edited by Alex Trotter but my memory is that it ignored all the texts about class (even those already translated into English) written before Camatte decided capital had ‘escaped’ and oppressed a universal human class, most notably one of my favourites “Origin and Function of the Party Form”. Anyway, since the Trotter book merely collected together English translations from pamphlets that I already had, I didn’t bother to obtain his book (I just looked at a copy someone else had). And you don’t need to bother with that Camatee anthology either coz you can check up on the stuff here:

Comment by Gary’s Gang on 2009-12-12 13:04:03 +0000

David Bowie don’t cut it, so don’t answer anyone calling themself Alladin Sane, espeically when anyone with little effort could find what they claimed to be unable to find by a web search. Breaks into song and dance:
“It’s the same old song but with even more feelin’ since Latham’s been gone… so got to keep on dancin’, keep on dancin’….. coz there ain’t nothin’ that I can’t fix coz I can do it in the mix….”

Comment by fi on 2009-12-12 16:04:10 +0000

love me, Trippy.
(But of course, I didn’t say that.)

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-12-12 16:51:50 +0000

If you didn’t say that then I won’t reply – quid pro rata…

Comment by Fi-Fi Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum on 2009-12-12 17:10:36 +0000

Fee-fi-fo-fum I suspect the use of a multiple name!

Comment by francis farmer on 2009-12-12 21:37:11 +0000

i’ve got a brand new combine harvester
but i’m barking so i’m not allowed the key to it

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