Alum Wins Guggenheim for Body-Generated Art

Alum Wins Guggenheim for Body-Generated Art

This spring Janine Antoni MFA 89 SC joined the diverse group of 180 artists, scientists and scholars who won a prestigious 2011Guggenheim Fellowship. She won in the Fine Art area of study within Creative Arts. With a creative oeuvre that spans more than two decades, she is best known for works that incorporate her own body.

In 1992, in her breakthrough piece Gnaw, Antoni bit, licked and chewed a pair of 600-pound cubes – one chocolate, one lard – into sculptural fragments and has painted gallery floors with sweeping motions of her own hair drenched in hair coloring and carved sculpture from lard and chocolate, using only her teeth, tongue and lips. InLick and Lather, she used one of the most revered forms of classical art – the bust – to explore notions of immortality and erasure, casting molds of herself in chocolate and soap. She then licked one replica and washed herself with the other, licking away the chocolate and washing with the soap until the forms resembled eroded busts from antiquity.

Antoni’s body-generated art has also taken on the form of live performance, sometimes unfolding over days. In the dream-like2038, a piece captured on film, she bathed in a watering trough for cattle; as she assumed the pose of a Madonna, her eyes cast down and her head lowered toward the water, a cow marked with the animal tag 2038 lapped the water, almost seeming to nurse from Antoni’s exposed breasts. And inSlumber, she used her own sleep to create art: The performance, sometimes unfolding over a week or more, begins with her sleeping inside a museum or gallery. By night, an EEG machine records her REM patterns. By day, the artist then uses the pattern to weave a blanket under which she sleeps.

In interviews, Antoni has noted that the private rituals at the heart of her work – at turns erotic, maternal, domestic, biological or religious – not only connect her with her chosen material, but also with her audience. “If I don’t have an experience with the object, how can I hope that the viewer will have an experience with the object?” she has said. “Making something is like a fight. I start out with an idea of what I want the object to be, and I try to impose it on the material. Usually the material resists me all the way. If I can stay open and have the courage not to hang on to my original idea, the material starts to speak back and tell me what it wants to be.”

A native of the Bahamas, Antoni lives in Brooklyn and teaches fine arts at Columbia University. This spring she exhibited the video installationTouch at Germany’s Museum Kunst der Westküste. She has also exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art and in theVenice Biennale, among other major venues. Prior to receiving a 2011 Guggenheim, she won a MacArthur “genius grant” in 1998 and earned a 2003 Artistic Achievement Award from the RISD Alumni Association.

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