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Eleanor Antin papers, 1953-2010

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Antin (Eleanor) Papers

Biographical/Historical Note

A key figure in the development of conceptual, feminist, and performance art, Eleanor Antin has created an influential body of work in an impressive range of media, including photography, improvised and theatrical performance, installation, film and video, drawing, writing, and sculpture. Often imbued with a tone of deadpan humor, her projects deal nonetheless with issues as serious and complex as gender, race, culture, and identity.

Eleanor Antin was born in 1935 in the Bronx, New York, to Polish immigrant parents. Her mother was an actress in Yiddish theater, and her father worked in the garment industry; both were active in leftist politics. Antin was educated in New York at the Art and Music high school, City College, and the New School for Social Research. She also studied acting. After a brief stint as an actress, she returned to City College to complete her degree; there she met poet-critic David Antin, whom she married in 1961.

Eleanor Antin shifted her focus in the 1960s from acting to conceptual object-text artworks when she was part of a circle of artists that included members of Fluxus. One such work of this phase is Blood of a Poet Box, consisting of an unassuming container that houses one hundred microscope slides bearing a drop of blood from a writer; each author's name-including Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, and John Cage-is methodically listed on the inside of the box's lid.

The Antins moved permanently to San Diego in 1968, and the phase of Antin's work that involved conceptual photography and installation culminated in her signature piece 100 Boots (1971). Modeled on the literary formats of picaresque and serial novels, 100 Boots took the form of fifty-one picture postcards, mailed out periodically to members of the art world, that illustrate the epic tale of one-hundred rubber boots marching from Southern California to New York. Each postcard presents a snapshot of their trek as they walk through a farm, past oil rigs, visit a cemetery, or ride the Staten Island Ferry on their way into Manhattan.

Beginning in 1972, Antin began to draw on her theatrical background in a series of works in which she performed as personas she had invented and written narratives for; soon she filmed these performances as well. The explicit leftist-feminist turn of works such as The Adventures of a Nurse (1976) and Before the Revolution (1979) together with their layered humor and exuberant innovation, established her as a pivotal figure in feminist film. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, her work often dealt with Jewish and Russian history, in addition to the plight of women in society. In the past decade, the setting for her work has moved further back in time, to ancient Rome.

The significance of Antin's work has been recognized by publications and exhibitions since the late 1960s and early 1970s, and over the last four decades it has continued to shape the direction of subsequent generations of artists.




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