Janine Antoni is a respected artist known for her contemporary feminist sculptural and performance work. Born in 1964, she moved from Freeport, Bahamas to the USA for her education. She first attended Sarah Lawrence College, where she was first introduced to feminism by her peers in the mid 1980’s. Later, this interest in feminism was refined as she received her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Her professor, Mira Schor, introduced her to artists such as: Hannah Wilke, Carolee Schneemann, Ana Mendieta and Louise Bourgeois. Through their influence, Antoni reinterprets contemporary womanhood, melding together the conflicting art movements of Pop and Feminism.
The effect of feminism in Antoni’s work roots itself in concept, but initially appears through appropriated imagery. Antoni’s first work to fame, “Loving Care,” directly alludes to her feminist predecessor, Carolee Schneemann, and her visceral performance, “Meat Joy.” Both works display a horizontality highlighted through the inflicted spreading of both human bodies and materials. Schneemann spreads paint, meat, and various human bodies, evoking female sexuality. While Schneemann has been criticized of generalizing sexuality, Antoni welcomes herself as a conduit for all modern women. As Antoni dips her hair in hair dye and paints the gallery floor in “Loving Care,” she evokes a common feminine task. Hair dye, a familiar beauty product used daily by a majority of women, relates Antoni to a gendered, every-day activity. This exaggerated task of the everyday brings to light the everyday activities of women, condensing them together as they are able to empathize with Antoni as she mimics a collective behavior.
Antoni’s chosen material of hair dye reflects her pop-like interest in the commercial world. Much like the predominately male Pop artists of the 1950’s and 1960’s, Antoni focuses on specific commercialized products. She focuses explicitly on products marketed towards women, such as hair dye in “Loving Care.” Like Andy Warhol’s “Peach Halves,” or Robert Hamilton’s “Just What Makes Today’s Homes so Different?” Antoni focuses on specific products and emphasizes brand name. In Warhol’s “Peach Halves” the brand, Del Monte, is highlighted through blatant text. Hamilton expresses brand name and commerciality through images taken directly from ads, allowing for brand names and marketing blurbs to appear within the image. But while Hamilton and Warhol focus on products as a whole, Antoni focuses on feminine materials. For example, in “Butterfly Kisses” Antoni highlights the specific brand of her material, Cover Girl Thick Lash Mascara. The listing of a specific brand as a material evokes certain audience associations, such as the purchase and everyday use of the object, demonstrating successful marketing through mass media outlets.
While Antoni directly acknowledges the gendered focus of mass media in her choices of material, she evaluates the effect of mass media through the production of her work. Antoni creates a daily schedule for a specific amount of time to create her works. During this time, she repeats the same motions. In the creation of “Butterfly Kisses,” Antoni fluttered her mascara-coated eyelashes over a piece of paper for 20 minutes every day for five weeks. The repetitive, ritualistic, and often daily actions behind “Loving Care” and “Butterfly Kisses” manifests throughout her works as she evaluates female compulsions sparked by mass media. Her repetitive processes of creation are practiced both publicly and privately. The public display of beauty primping in works such as “Loving Care,” reflects actions that are widely accepted and displayed throughout contemporary society. But creations performed in private, alluded to only through evidence of her body’s marks, reflect female compulsive behaviors that are considered taboo.
Works such as “Gnaw” display such taboo compulsions, as the subject of eating disorders was performed privately. “Gnaw” is comprised of two 600 lbs. blocks of chocolate and lard, which were continuously bitten and licked by Antoni in the gallery space at night. Her choice to create “Gnaw” privately reflects and criticizes the common female behavior of binging and purging. The act of gnawing and eating away the sculpture is only suggested through physical evidence of bite marks upon the blocks. This faint hint of action alludes to the treatment of eating disorders within a contemporary setting. While this behavior is encouraged by mass media, it is left unnoticed and hidden throughout contemporary societal settings. Yet evidence of these behaviors emerges as well, as certain physical and behavioral characteristics indicate a compulsive eating disorder. The criticism of mass media’s encouragement of negative behaviors through romantic imagery is highlighted through Antoni’s use of the chewed away bits of chocolate and lard from “Gnaw.” Next to the gallery displaying the blocks of chocolate and lard, is a separate space presenting chocolate boxes and lipsticks. The chocolate boxes were molded from the chewed chocolate, and the lipsticks from the licked lard. These “specifically feminine objects” mimic the romantic imagery evoked by mass media’s marketing processes, which inflict compulsive female behaviors. As these romantically feminine objects were created from material extracted through binging, Antoni highlights the darker side to feminine based marketing and compulsions.
Recently, Antoni’s work refocused as she became a mother. This shift is evident through her art as she strays from feminine commercialism to a biological role. Yet, in accordance to her previous work, Antoni challenges feminine roles through lighthearted reinterpretations. For example, in “One Another,” Antoni directly challenges the role and obligations of motherhood. The image displays her child feeding her bellybutton, distorting the role of motherhood and femininity as a whole. Her other works on motherhood, such as “Inhabit,” light-heartedly reference the feminist art movement. This modern interpretation of feminism is highlighted through an interview with Antoni where she claims that, “‘People want to paint me a militant feminist…The Generation before me was angry. They had to be to claim this ground. Because of that anger, I have the privilege of humor’” (Rosoff, 166). The bright colors composing “Inhabit” create a lighthearted appropriation of graver past feminist works, reflecting the humor that Antoni relies upon within her art. The dollhouse skirt in “Inhabit” directly evokes the suspended limbs in Sandy Orgel’s “Linen Closet” as well as Carolee Schneemann’s focus on the female genitalia in “Interior Scroll.” Like Schneemann, Antoni decorates and highlights the vagina as a center of biological and artistic creativity. This playful imitation of past feminist works reflects Antoni’s postmodern influences.
Antoni’s artworks redefine femininity in a contemporary setting. Her claim to humor is synonymous with her pop art influence, which she regards through a feminist lens. This allusion to past artistic movements, such as pop and feminist art identifies her as a postmodern artist. Yet through this distorted feminist pop art, Antoni develops a unique artistic category analogous to the introduction of female artists in the 1990’s. As she refocuses on femininity through various feminine tasks, Antoni displays third wave feminist thought. Her work shifts with her own life experience; she enters a single woman influenced by commercialism and becomes a mother influenced by her duties to another being. This embraced variation reflects the fledgling perspective of ambiguous femininity. This altering sense of female roles evokes a contemporary sense of feminism, commonly identified as third wave. By reinterpreting her own role as a woman, Antoni reevaluates femininity as a whole. Antoni’s allowance of shifting feminine perspective reflects the contemporary evolution of female roles.
Andy Warhol Book Plate Print “del Monte Peach Halves Can” Digital image.Vintage Paper Archives. Pintrest, n.d. Web. 9 June 2015.
Cameron, Dan, et al. Janine Antoni. New York, NY: Ink Tree Edition, 2000. Print.
Dreishpoon, Douglas. “Art In America.” Janine Antoni. Art In America, 23 Oct. 2009. Web. 02 May 2015. <http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/magazine/janine-antoni/>>.
Hershman, Lynn. “Transcript of Interview with Janine Antoni.” Transcript of Interview with Janine Antoni. Stanford University, 10 May 2006. Web. 02 May 2015. <https://lib.stanford.edu/women-art-revolution/transcript-interview-janine-antoni>.
Interior Scroll. Digital image. The 25 Best Performance Art Pieces of All Time. Complex, 9 Apr. 2013. Web. 9 June 2015.
“Janine Antoni: Lick and Lather.” San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. SFMOMA, n.d. Web. 07 May 2015. <http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/collection/artwork/127303>>.
“Janine Antoni.” PBS: Art 21. PBS, n.d. Web. 02 May 2015. <http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/janine-antoni>.
Linen Closet, 1972 Sandy Orgel. Digital image. The Linen Closet. Http://womanhouse.refugia.net/, n.d. Web. 9 June 2015.
“Various Images” ART21. PBS, n.d. Web. 07 May 2015. <http://www.art21.org/images/janine-antoni>.
Posner, Helaine, et al. The Reckoning: Women Artists of the New Millennium. New York: Prestel, 2013. Print.
“Richard Hamilton (1922-2011).” THE CROSSED COW. N.p., 14 Sept. 2011. Web. 09 June 2015.
Rosoff, Patricia. Innocent Eye. North Adams, MA: Tupelo Press, 2013. Print.