Janine Antoni at Luhring, Augustine

AntoniJanine Antoni, Conduit (2009), digital c-print, 28″ x 33″; courtesy Luhring, Augustine

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“For me, the body [is] a funnel through which the world has been poured”—so says Janine Antoni, whose work is at Luhring Augustine. No friend of subtlety, Antoni has crafted a series of miniature, copper gargoyles that, having been designed with specific anatomical details in mind, allow women to urinate while standing up. The artist appears in a photograph, perched atop the Chrysler Building, utilizing one of the gargoyles for that purpose. The press release describes the resulting image as an “exuberant gesture.”

The press release is chock full of information that might otherwise elide those naïve enough to believe that art might be employed for something other than aggrieved narcissism—you know, like creating objects with their own free-standing, artistic rationale. Whatever Antoni constructs, photographs or gnaws on—this is, remember, the artist who gained notoriety by chewing on lard and chocolate—is tethered, ineluctably and with grave insistence, to theory. This time around it’s “destruction, motherhood and fantasy,” “the body as measure” and the “instinctive physiological reaction against danger”. But the only thing Antoni brings to these subjects is irony-free pretension.

Equating penises with monsters is an overripe feminist conceit, as is the notion that motherhood is a trap. In a large photograph, we see parent Antoni ensnared within a spider’s web, her legs encased in a doll house and her visage stoic and beleaguered. Having discovered that motherhood is “complex,” Antoni equates her parental lot in life with the crucifixion.

Any artist this pedantic (or humorless) shouldn’t indulge in messianic comparisons. So when Antoni stages an installation that features a room-sized video projection of a blinking eye, a wrecking ball and a soundtrack of doom-laden, booming noises, you’re grateful for the foray into Surrealism-Lite. Better a Dali-complex than a Jesus-complex, but not so much better that you’d want to take the work seriously.

© 2009 Mario Naves

Originally published in the October 7, 2009 edition of City Arts.

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