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David Antin papers, 1954-2006

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Antin (David) Papers

Biographical/Historical Note

Equal parts poet, critic, philosopher, and performance artist, David Antin (b. 1932) does not fit easily within any standard category of artistic or academic production. Originally trained in languages, mathematics, and science, the first ten years of Antin's career (1955-1964) were spent as a translator of both scientific texts and fiction. By the late 1950s, Antin had begun to experiment with writing fiction and poetry, with his first published work appearing in Kenyon Review in 1959. By the early 1960s, Antin had developed significantly both as a poet and as an art critic, and his 1965 articles about Andy Warhol and Robert Morris could be said to be among the first truly analytical writings about either artist.

By the later 1960s, Antin was becoming a key figure in New York art and literary circles. His dynamic and charismatic speaking style became a basis for spoken-word performances that fused elements of Fluxus and Cagean aesthetics with vanguard trends in fiction and poetry - a practice that shared many sympathies with artists such as Jackson Mac Low and the earliest works of Vito Acconci. Following a brief period as curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Antin took a teaching position at the University of California, San Diego in 1968, where he continued teaching for the rest of his career. Early on in San Diego, Antin was curator, and then director, of UCSD's Mandeville Art Gallery, where he organized exhibitions by Joan Jonas, Richard Serra, Nancy Spero, Keith Sonnier, and a large group show of Fluxus artists. Antin also helped to inaugurate the UCSD library's Special Collections Poetry Archive, which today has grown to be one of the most significant such collections in the country. Antin eventually became chairman of UCSD's Department of Visual Studies. Among the many innovations of this department, and primarily at Antin's urging, UCSD's was the first art department in the country to begin a program in video art (1971), and the first to begin a program in computer and new media art (1974).

As an art historian, critic, and theorist, Antin's contributions have been significant, but by no means systematic. Just as likely to write about Alex Katz as about new directions in computer art, Antin covers an extremely broad area in his writings, including pieces about Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Martha Graham, Piet Mondrian, Robert Morris, Yvonne Rainer, Mark Rothko, and Andy Warhol, as well as important pieces about video art, performance, technology, and general notions of the avant-garde and post-modernism. Antin has written presciently about the art market throughout his career, and his writings contain one of the most sustained arguments for the role of narrative in the visual arts. Antin has also continued to be an extremely prolific and esteemed writer of fiction and poetry up to the present day.

Antin's unique contribution to all of his fields of interest has been the development of the "talk piece," a sort of spoken-word academia that fuses poetry, performance art, and criticism into a single, persuasive form of discourse. When listened to, the talk piece would seem to be performance art; transcribed in Antin's unique grammatical style, it reads as poetry; and when analyzed for its intellectual content, the talk piece exists solidly as art or literary criticism. Since developing the talk piece in 1970, Antin has continued using it as his primary means of public discourse, both as live performance and as written (transcribed) material. Looking at Antin's career as a whole, it is certainly this form of discourse that ties his practice together, and which reveals the main focus of his life's project to be an extended interrogation of how and why we make meaning in any form, visual, verbal, or otherwise.




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