Visiting Artist Janine Antoni – Anna Cook

Janine Antoni visited us at CU Boulder on March 6th, 2012. Having previously studied Antoni, I already had an admiration for her work, but meeting the artist in person was far more fascinating than her ART21 video.

Antoni began the lecture by discussing some of her earlier works, the ones, which led to her fame. Pieces such as Gnaw (1992) and Lick and Lather (1994) put Antoni in a celebrity status in the art world. Why we see this sudden popularity is partly attributed to Antoni’s “hands on” approach to creating her work. I use the term “hands on” loosely because, on the contrary, Antoni seems to use everything else. For Gnaw, Antoni formed 600 pounds of chocolate and lard and slowly “gnawed” away at the blocks. With each bite she took, Antoni saved the chocolate and lard for the creation of “heart-shaped packages” and ruby red lipstick. These items are all about seduction, about beauty and being enticed. We are seduced by our comforts, and by our comfort foods, but we wish to seduce others with our beauty. Using her own teeth, she showed how these things “gnaw” at us. Similarly, Lick and Lather is composed by a series of busts, self-portraits that Antoni shad slowly withered away by licking at or bathing with.

Her pieces are so personal and conceptual. They seem to be a blend of modernism and post-modernism. She creates pieces that are both conceptually sound and aesthetically pleasing, and with her hands on approach, she is actively involved with her art. She is no Jeff Koons.

In 2001, Antoni created the piece titled Cradle, which involved various scooping items placed within one another, similarly to a Russian doll. Despite the industrial aesthetic to this piece, there is a maternal softness to it. Upon reaching the smallest object we see a baby spoon, quant and petite. It brings the viewer back to the memories of being held, “cradled,” even. Antoni seemed to best identify with maternal imagery, often mixed with industrial aesthetic, juxtaposing her themes. It is similar to many other postmodernist artists who actively intertwine math and sciences with their art.

Antoni has also worked particularly closely to cattle. In her piece 2038 (2000), Janine submerged herself into a trowel of water meant for cattle. The piece is centered in a barn, and according to Antoni, it was difficult to achieve a picture that captured what she was going for. Despite the industrial agrarian setting for this piece, there is also a defined tenderness in it. Antoni’s expression is not only subdued, but unusually seductive. In this piece she acts as a mother, providing the milk to the cow that was once given to her by the cow. It is an abstract statement about what is provided to us and returning that to nature.

In another piece, titled Saddle (2000), Antoni use a wet cowhide to create a mold of herself crawling on the ground. The pose itself is quite submissive, indicating something animalistic. The dried mold appears like a phantom, unsettling and horrific: something as soft as skin used to create something so unnerving to the viewer and once again we see the juxtaposed forces of Antoni’s meanings.

One of Antoni’s more individual works, titled Touch (2002), is a DVD installation, which shows the artist crossing a tight rope over the horizon of the ocean. As Antoni went on with her presentation, I noticed that there was something distinctly different about her earlier works and her later works. As time has gone on, the pieces have become far more personalized, not just about society but about Antoni’s life.

The final piece Antoni presented was If I Die Before I Wake (mother’s hand meets daughter’s hand in prayer). The piece was made in 2004, one of Antoni’s latest works. The piece is an impression of her hands as well as her mother’s hands, pressed together as if in a prayer. Her hands are still young, with few wrinkles or veins, but her mother’s have become aged. The hands are so similar, but still so very different. They are separated by time, but held together by motherhood and their religious beliefs. In some ways, we could see the piece as overdone and even cheesy. In another sense though, its simplicity strikes us at the core and reminds us of our mothers or perhaps that we inherit our religious views, often via our mothers.

After the presentation, I met Antoni and gave her a handshake. She was a soft spoken woman, but she seemed rather edgy as well, similarly to her art. Though I am biased, Antoni is one of the most hands on artists of this generation, using motherhood, society, and seduction to make a statement. She is perhaps the most inspiring artist I have seen thus far and I am excited to see what she creates in the future.





“THE COLLECTION.” The Museum of Modern Art, 2010. Web. 26 Apr. 2012. <|A:AR:E:1>.

“Janine Antoni Catalogue.” Fine Art, Decorative Art, and Design. Artnet Worldwide Corporation, 2010. Web. 27 Apr. 2012. <;.

3 Responses

  1. I thought you did a good job of thoroughly analyzing Antoni’s work. Your point that her work has gotten more personal the more it has developed is a good one, and I agree. I also agree that her “hands on” or really involved approach is something somewhat unique and refreshing from many other contemporary artists.

  2. I really liked your ‘hands on’ analysis of Antoni’s work. I think one of the things that makes her work so enthralling is that she is so physically involved in it, to the point of licking, biting, or bathing with her pieces.

    I thought that Saddle was a really interesting piece, and was wondering what you thought Antoni’s strategy was here? To me, using something that seems so similar to human skin makes the piece so haunting, which speaks to Antoni’s interest in the human relationship to objects. In this case, it would be a very close relationship, and it is this closeness that is what’s scary.

  3. Anna,
    Your essay is written very well and I love that you aligned your analysis with her approach – as it is so important to her works. I totally agree with your statement about no being Jeff Koons – and thank goodness! Antoni’s work is so much about the hands on, that it probably would never be successful with Koon’s approach.

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