Janine Antoni. Saddle. 2000. Rawhide, 25 1/2 × 32 1/2 × 78 1/2" (64.8 × 82.6 × 199.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Agnes Gund

“[S]o much meaning is in how we choose to make something....”

Janine Antoni

“To me, so much meaning is in how we choose to make something, both in art and in all objects that we deal with in our lives,” Janine Antoni has said. “I think of the work as viewers coming in on the scene of the crime, and I’ve left all these clues for them to uncover.”1 Antoni emerged in the New York art world in the early 1990s with lively works that played with relationships between her body and the material world. Her earliest performance-oriented work often focused on making physical traces on materials like chocolate, lard, and soap using familiar movements and gestures—gnawing, mopping, licking, weaving, and winking.

Viewers of Antoni’s work frequently focused on the significance of her materials, especially mascara and hair dye, which had clear, conventional connections to womens’ bodies. Antoni’s approach in the 1990s echoes that of feminist artists working in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Carolee Schneemann, Ana Mendieta, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles. Like these predecessors, Antoni views her body as a key component in her creative process, remarking that it is “a funnel through which the world is poured.”2 With this in mind, Antoni’s impressions often reframe forms that have dominated modern art history of the mid-to-late 20th century. She dismantled the Minimalist cube structure with her mouth in Gnaw, made Abstract Expressionist-style strokes using her head saturated with hair dye in Loving Care in front of a live audience, and created thousands of marks by winking her Covergirl-mascara-coated lashes in Butterfly Kisses.

Antoni has found that the meaning of her work becomes more compelling for her viewers when they have not witnessed her actions. In Gnaw, cubes of chocolate and lard bear the impressions of her teeth, having been gnawed prior to their exhibition. “For me, that removal is a generous act, in the sense that it creates a place for the viewer,” Antoni has said. “Imagining the process is so much more powerful than watching me do it…. By imagining me, the viewer’s experience turns out to be about their own wish fulfillment.”3 Antoni invites her viewers to not only feel the labor of her artwork but to recognize her performative gnawing as parallel to everyday food consumption.

The empathy Antoni’s works generate also extends to the way she treats her materials. In Saddle, created in 2000, a rawhide clings to the artist’s silhouette posed on all fours. The draped quality of the hide gives the impression that Antoni is hiding underneath a sheet; however, her actual body is not present. Instead, two implicit figures—a cow and the artist—dwell within each other as sentient beings sharing a four-legged sculptural form.4

Antoni’s interest in leaving traces has developed into performances that explore intuitive gestures.5 She is also interested in projects in which she leaves no visible trace. In Touch, a video from 2002, Antoni sets up a tightrope just above the horizon line of the beach in front of her childhood home in the Bahamas. She tenaciously walks the rope, keeping her balance as her arms undulate against a crystalline sky. She holds herself upright, and in the moments when the rope sags, the Atlantic Ocean seems to hold her upright so that it appears she’s walking on water. Antoni’s playful body of work considers human agency over objects, but she also offers us opportunities to contemplate the power that objects assert over us.

Rachael Schwabe, Assistant Educator, Department of Learning and Engagement, 2023

  1. Art in the Twenty First Century, “Janine Antoni in ‘Loss & Desire,’” Season 2, aired September 10, 2003, accessed November 15, 2023

  2. Janine Antoni, interviewed by the author, Brooklyn, NY, October 24, 2019. Reflecting back on the early years of her artistic career, Antoni remarked that a critical approach—which, in her case, meant taking on the gestures and forms of male artists—felt like the only way in to making art.

  3. Janine Antoni and Stuart Horodner, “Janine Antoni,” BOMB, no. 66 (Winter 1999): 50.

  4. Art in the Twenty First Century, “Janine Antoni in ‘Loss & Desire.’”

  5. Antoni has worked with dancers Anna Halprin and Stephen Petronio, created a repertoire of movements and devotional icons for the Greenwood Cemetery catacombs, and created a land art project in partnership with Kansas University.

Wikipedia entry
Janine Antoni (born January 19, 1964) is a Bahamian–born American artist, who creates contemporary work in performance art, sculpture, and photography. Antoni's work focuses on process and the transitions between the making and finished product, often portraying feminist ideals. She emphasizes the human body in her pieces, such as her mouth, hair, eyelashes, and, through technological scanning, brain, using it as a tool of creation or as the subject of her pieces, exploring intimacy between the spectator and the artist. Her work blurs the distinction between performance art and sculpture. She describes her work by saying "I am interested in extreme acts that pull you in, as unconventional as they may be" She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. Represented by Luhring Augustine Gallery, NY,  and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Known for incorporating everyday materials and her own body in her sculptural process (e.g. Gnaw, 1992); the absent body, gender roles, and the oral focus are recurring issues in her work.
American, Bahamian
Artist, Installation Artist, Performance Artist, Photographer, Sculptor
Janine Antoni
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


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