You are here

Two Perspectives on Multiple Occupancy: Eleanor Antin's "Selves" at the Wallach

Published on
November 25

Multiple Faces, Multiple Identities

By Nancy Chen, CC ' 16

Tucked away on the 8th floor of Schermerhorn is the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, a small art gallery on Columbia’s campus that seems to go unnoticed despite the large vertical blue sign poking out from the side of the building that calls attention to the gallery’s presence.

Currently on view is Multiple Occupancy: Eleanor Antin’s “Selves,” curated by Emily Liebert. The exhibit showcases the work of Eleanor Antin, an influential artist and writer. Through the mediums of performance, video, film, photography, and installation, Antin presents a variety of narratives where she explores the different facets of the “self.” Between 1972 and 1991, she embodies and creates the characters of a king, a ballerina, a nurse, and a film director. In one instance, she takes on the character of a self-taught ballerina; though she is able to master dance poses, she cannot dance in motion. The photos on the wall that capture the dancer’s grace are juxtaposed by a video showing the taking of these photographs in which the ballerina’s clumsiness shows through in between shots. It was fascinating to see the performances of these characters, which varied in age, gender, race, and historical era, play out through the different mediums that she used. Though small, the exhibit was able to showcase the myriad of personas that Antin took on to explore the idea of multiple personalities and identities within one “self.” Antin states, “I consider the usual aids to self-definition, sex, age, talent, time and space – as tyrannical limitations upon my freedom of choice.” Despite this seemingly liberating idea that backs her work, many of Antin’s different narratives carry a sense of desperation caused by boundaries. The exhibit causes one to think about how one defines oneself and what identities we place upon ourselves. Does playing out a character cause one to fully become that character? How complex are our own identities? Does the identity we wish to portray stand in line with the identity others see us in?

Take a quick spin around the Wallach Gallery to see Antin’s many selves. The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from 1pm-5pm and the exhibit will be open to the public until Saturday, December 7, 2013.

Curator's Tour at Wallach Gallery - Eleanor Antin​

By Alicia Marin, SIPA ' 15

One of my favorite quotes ever is from artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 - 1986), who is said to have remarked: “The men liked to put me down as the best woman painter. I think I’m one of the best painters”. At the time, her controversial statement came across as openly breaking the subordinate role women were expected to play in society. Even though history eventually recognized Georgia O’Keeffe as one of the most influential American modernist artists, those words are still significant to women artists today.

Emily Liebert, a fresh Ph.D. from the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, gave a private tour on November 8th on the show “Multiple Occupancy: Eleanor Antin's "Selves" at the Wallach Gallery (located in the 8th floor of the Schermerhorn Building). Listening to Emily talking about the relevance of artist Eleanor Antin (b. the Bronx, 1935) I recalled the Georgia O’Keeffe quote. It seemed like Eleanor Antin needs as well recognition for her contributions as a pioneer of performance, photography, film, video, installation, and conceptual art, not just as woman artist. The exhibition is an effort by Emily Liebert in that direction.

From Emily’s curatorial statement I took these words that Eleanor once declared, "I consider the usual aids to self-definition—sex, age, talent, time and space—as tyrannical limitations upon my freedom of choice." During the private tour questions arise on imposed identities, societal standards and biases, and Emily guided us through the artist’s work of live performances, films, videos, installations, staged photographs, drawing, journal entries, and puppets. With a mix of new and old techniques, Eleanor redefined women role in society recreating fictional characters through techniques that were experimental in 1970’s.

One of her character is nurse Eleanor Nightingale, who leaves a Victorian life in England to become a nurse in the front of Crimean War. Antin adopted this role to expose “the reality that women, even in positions of authority, were expected to nurture and provide for men”. The video “The nurse and the Hijackers” from 1977, is particularly comical.Another persona in Antin’s repertoire is Eleanora Antinova, a conflicted African American ballerina whose career is constrained by the double prejudice of society on women and race. Antin represents her frustration with amusement, using photographs of a dancer unable to dance, to make her way through difficulties.

Yet, another fictional role is “The King”, a character between invention and historical events that Eleanor Antin played in the streets of Solana Beach in California from 1972 to 1975. The photographic series “The King of Solana Beach” depicts my journey into Eleanor Antin’s multiple facets. A women from the 1970 dressed up as a historical king from the seventeen century as a reflection on the influence the past has over our subjective perception, and how it can be retold, reinterpreted, and redefined, not only to unmask false identities but also to restore pioneer artists in history.