Friday, November 30, 2012

Eleanor Antin at the Belkin

Yesterday I attended Eleanor Antin's reading and conversation (with Michael Morris) at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, part of the State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970 exhibition that runs until December 9th.

For those unfamiliar with Antin, she was a force in the burgeoning California art scene of the 1970s. In speaking of her practice (as a preface to her reading) she said "writing and visual art go together -- whatever you need, whatever you have to do, is fair game."

In the 1960s, "fair game" was body-based work. Later, photo-tableaux (the above image, The Artist's Studio [2001], is from her "Last Days of Pompeii" series). But today it is memoir, a collection of chapters chronicling her life growing up in the Bronx as a "red diaper baby." The name of her memoir is Conversations with Stalin.

During her almost hour long reading, Antin, who is 77-years-young, regaled us with stories of family, religion, sex and death, delivered in her thick-New York accent (something she retained despite her 30 years at UCSD). While I would have liked to have heard from her adult life, many of the themes that occur in her work are rooted in her youth. Particularly poignant was a story concerning her sister, a musical prodigy who left music, only to regret it later.

Though deceptively simple, Antin's memoir is more Fran Lebowitz than Kathy Acker, more Woody Allen than Dodie Bellamy, Lydia Davis or Eileen Myles. This is not a bad thing, but I was expecting a greater degree of formal engagement from an artist who, at the outset of her visual and written career, took such huge artistic risks, someone who, like Acker, quite literally put her body on the line.

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