Multiple Occupancy: Eleanor Antin's "Selves" at the ICA

Antin, who was born in New York in 1935, is a pioneer of Conceptual art who works primarily in performance, photography, film, video and installation. She uses fiction, fantasy, and theatricality to examine the ways that history takes shape, and also to scrutinize the role that visual representation plays in that process.

Between 1972 and 1991, Antin created and embodied a number of different “selves” of varying genders, races, professions, historical eras, and geographic locations. Some she physically embodied and captured on film; others were represented via paper doll or puppets that she manipulated, often with faux-naiveté. Multiple Occupancy: Eleanor Antin’s “Selves” is the first exhibition to focus exclusively on these multiple personae.

Among the alter egos we meet in Multiple Occupancy are Eleanora Antinova, an African-American ballerina from Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes who longs to play the classic roles of Giselle and Sylphide but is relegated to more “exotic” Pocahontas types; a second, self-taught amateur ballerina who attempts to hide her mediocre technical skill through staged photography; and two nurses: Little Nurse Eleanor, whose attempts to heal her patients are continually sidetracked by their lust for her; and Eleanor Nightingale, who cares for soldiers at the front line of the Crimean War.

Antin’s contributions to contemporary art have been recognized at one-woman exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and a retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Antin’s multi-disciplinary body of work continues to inspire viewers and artists alike to question the nature of self-representation, performance, looking, transformation, and the mutability of identity.

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