Janine Antoni

Kara Gordon


Review of Janine Antoni’s Lecture

The art building lecture hall was filled with students and community members to hear Janine Antoni speak in early March. Having studied Antoni in many of my art history and studio art courses during my college career, I was very intrigued to hear her speak in person. I have to say that she did not disappoint; her willingness to engage with students and explain her art work added to my appreciation of contemporary art. 

One of the main issues that she continually raised during her discussion was how her work has been misinterpreted on many levels. Although she did not seem bothered by individual interpretations, critics seemed to willfully misrepresent her work on a consistent basis. One of her most famous works, Gnaw, an abstract 600 lb chocolate sculpture, is a play on the minimalist cube.  Although Antoni herself said that she just meant it as a joke and the overall critique of the piece was evidenced in the material, many critics saw her critiquing the masculine dominance of minimalism. During an interview when she was explaining the critic her commentary on the “bulimic tendencies of our society.” After this comment critics jumped to the conclusion that all of her works were commentaries on eating disorders when it was not the case. Her goal was very different, “For me, it’s not so much a critique of those issues as this idea of play, of using languages to make new meaning. So there has been a confusion of the critique in my work… I hope I’m sort of opening the terms of the argument and the complexities of it….I didn’t intend to make a piece about bulimia, I was just going through the process and spit this stuff out” (Ann Wilson Lloyd, “Janine Antoni,” Art New England 16 (February/March 1995): 13.)

Although she does not intend to address eating disorders, many of her works do comment upon the issue of beauty and consumerism in our culture. The residual pieces of chocolate and lard in Gnaw were used to create chocolate candy like those given on Valentine’s Day and lipstick respectively. Antoni’s idea was to seduce the viewer with the 600 lbs of chocolate then gross them out with the lard. Then show how lard is used to make us beautiful with lipstick and once beautiful we receive the chocolate. In another piece, Butterfly Kisses, Antoni put mascara on and then blinked against a canvas to leave eyelash marks. The piece comments upon the aesthetics of art history, women and beauty.

Many of her works are very body involving and create a personal relationship with what she has done. Loving Care, a performance work, centers around the childhood issue of maternal work and claiming a space. When her mother would mop, she would tell Antoni “go outside and play, I just mopped the kitchen floor.” Antoni recreates this moment with an abstract expressionist work inspired by Klein’s use of a model as a utensil to apply blue paint on canvas. Antoni uses hair dye to mop the floor with her hair as the paintbrush, in this sense she becomes both the model and the master of the area at the same time. She claims the space by mopping the audience out of the room.

Antoni is constantly trying to create alternative connections between objects and question how objects mediate interaction with our own bodies. Lick and Lather, one of my favorite pieces, was created for a Venice exhibition thus Antoni wanted to comment on the Italian tradition. In this work, she questions the reasoning behind self-portraits, as well as our relation to our own self-image. She created seven busts of herself in chocolate and seven in soap. She then molded them to change her appearance by licking the chocolate and washing herself with the soap. Through these processes she erased herself representing the love/hate relationship we tend to have with our bodies. She also questioned the reasons for creating a self-portrait. We either try to immortalize ourselves, which is impossible in ephemeral materials, or we are presenting a public image to the world, which in Antoni’s cause is distorted by either licking or lathering.

The most interesting issue that she spoke of in her is the relationship that the viewer has with her works. Although she seemed slightly bothered by critics’ misinterpretations and promulgation of incorrect interpretations, Antoni did not seem to mind when her audience interpreted her art differently than she intended. She spoke of how many times she was driven creatively by one aspect in a work but then viewers end up more interested in something else in the work. She constantly thinks of how the viewer will interpret a piece especially in her performance works.

My favorite piece of her’s is Your’s Truly created for the Hayward Gallery exhibition Move: Choreographing You. Antoni wrote a love letter from an object to the viewer as they walk around it. She then snuck the letter into people’s bags and coats in the coat check. The object is ambiguous and upon initial reading could be read as a real person, giving the reader an ego boost thinking someone admires them. When the reader realizes that it was an object in the exhibition, the letter allows the reader to imagine whichever they were most attracted to. This piece demonstrates Antoni statement, “objects are surrogates for myself, I want to be intimate with the viewer and they won’t let me do that, so objects are mediators.” Overall, her lecture was fascinating and I am so glad that I was able to go see her speak, only adding to my admiration and appreciation of her works.

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