Jackson Ellis Visiting Artist Paper 1 – Janine Antoni

Jackson Ellis


Janine Antoni Visiting Artist Lecture


Getting to see and hear Janine Antoni talk about her work was definitely one of the highlights of this semester, and for me, nothing could be more inspiring than getting a glimpse behind the method of a MacArthur fellowship recipient. What initially surprised me the most was Antoni’s serene demeanor, just listening to her talk felt having an intimate conversation with the artist. This same quality was reflected in her poetic work that dances between the personal and the spiritual.

Beginning with the work that put her on the map, Janine Antoni revealed a behind-the-scene look at a piece that I have known about since I first became a student of the visual arts. This is of course the sculpture Gnaw (1992), in which the artist cast two 600-pound cubes, one of chocolate and one of lard. One of the most successful aspects of the work is its relationship to the modernist “cube,” as it takes a post-modern approach to the subject matter. One cannot gaze upon the monumental work without contemplating Tony Smith’s Die (1962), but where Smith used industrially manufactured metal, Antoni has opted for a quieter, more feminine approach. As a critique on the modernist art institution, Gnaw serves to undermine the white male hegemony that was so prevalent throughout the life of the movement, using her own body as the instrument through which to do this. For Antoni, the body is a temple and a tool through which symbols and materials are translated into meaningful objects and situations.

The body has a very direct relationship to Janine Antoni’s work and she incorporates it in the most humorous and unique ways. “The body is a temple” is something that we’ve all heard before, but Antoni takes this concept to a comical extreme in the work Conduit (2009) in which the artist literally transforms her body into architecture. The result of a chance encounter with an invention to allow women to urinate like men, she took this concept and created a similar-functioning object out of copper that resembled a gargoyle. Taking this object to the Empire State building, the artist then preceded to urinate off the building, completing the transformation of body into architecture. Similar in concept to this body/architecture was her work One Another (2008), in which she allowed a doll house to be put around her that contained small spiders that wove webs inside the miniature rooms. As a mother, her perspective on the idea of a home and how it relates to the body are very important details, and Antoni uses this aspect of her life in many of her pieces. One Another emphasized the relationship the artist’s body has with the physical manifestation of the concept of the “home.” That is that she (her body) is both a physical dwelling for an unborn child and her role as a mother is providing a zone of safety for the child through love, caring and physical security.

Hearing Janine Antoni speak and present demonstrated to me how a true artist acts. It was inspiring to feel the passion Antoni had for art and the way she spoke about it was incredibly poetic. Someday I too hope to be able to speak about my art in a way that inspires my audience that way she inspired me.

One Response

  1. It is great that you are passionate about Janine Antoni, it shows that through your review and it made your paper stronger. I really wish I could have gone to this lecture, it seems like she discussed a lot of fascinating art works. I did get a great sense of what the lecture was like just by reading your review.

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