Skip to main content Start of main content

Excerpt of email from Eleanor Antin to Alexandra Schwartz

Page view from From Conceptualism to Feminism: Lucy Lippard's Numbers Shows 1969–74 (Afterall Books, 2012)

North American artist and author Eleanor Antin works in performance, video, film, drawing and writing. In 1965, she began her first Conceptual artwork, titled Blood of a Poet Box (1965–1968) and comprising one hundred glass slides containing blood specimens collected from one hundred poets, in homage to Jean Cocteau’s 1930s film Blood of a Poet. With Adrian Piper and Ingrid Baxter from N.E. Thing Co., Antin is one of the three artists included in ‘c.7,500’ who was shown in one of Lippard’s earlier ‘numbers shows’, as she appeared in ‘2,972,453’ in Buenos Aires with Portraits of Some New York Women (1970).

Eleanor Antin: I don’t remember seeing ‘c.7,500’ when it was in Valencia [at CalArts], which was about a three-and-a-half-hour drive up from San Diego, where I still live and work. I didn’t even remember which work I had in the show until I got your list of questions and set myself to finding my index card catalogue, which took some time. Apparently I had categorised it, in my imperfect way, amongst the many group exhibition catalogues I have subsequently accumulated over the years. I’m glad that I found it because now I’ll set it aside with artworks, where it belongs.

I remember being somewhat pissed about the show because I knew there were earlier [Lucy] Lippard numbers shows that didn’t include me and I was very sensitive in those days about being excluded from the ‘boys’ club’. That’s what I called the small group of conceptual artists who were travelling around, having a ball in Europe and being written about all over the place, while I felt insulted and injured in San Diego. Even when I did get invited to show in Europe (for the first time in 1973),1 I was treated differently, especially by the European women who worked in the galleries. What?! I left my little boy back in the US and came to Europe for some art exhibitions? ‘But he’s with his father’, I insisted stubbornly, determined not to let their disapproval make me feel guilty. I was something of a disreputable curiosity. Whereas if I had been one of the boys, I suspect they would have been flirting and flattering me shamelessly. So, when I was contacted about the ‘women’s’ Conceptual art show at CalArts, I felt ‘so what?’ rather than pleasure.

But, in the course of looking through my bio (which I normally never do), I found an earlier numbers show of Lucy’s that I had forgotten. It was back in 1970 in Buenos Aires: ‘2,972,453’. This show took place at the Centro de Arte y Comunicación – Jorge Glusberg’s gutsy, much harassed, avant-garde gallery, holding its own in a country run by military despots. In fact, the piece that I had in that show – involving several stories about New York women whom I knew (including Yvonne Rainer, Carolee Schneemann, Ruth Moss and Margaret Mead) – was the piece that I would have wrongly guessed was included in ‘c.7.500’ three year’s later2 (whereas, as I have just learnt from the cards, the work I had in the later show was Domestic Peace [1971–72]).3 So I had already been in one of Lucy’s shows, even if it was among what I believe she calls the latecomers, and I was certainly no latecomer, having begun Blood of a Poet Box in 1965.

Eleanor Antin, Domestic Peace, 1971–72, details 17 handwritten text pages on graph paper and typewritten documentation of verbal sparring between Antin and her mother and diagrams of their resulting emotional states. Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York

So why should I recall her 1973 show with some bugginess? I know that memory can conflate two events together and create a third event, an amalgam with the patina of total truth. One of my earliest canonical memories of an event that took place when I was five years old, was, I realised many years later, a confluence of two events recast in my mind to form an iconic and very rich part of my psyche. So one of the basic lodestars of my inner truth, you might say, was actually a fabricated pastiche. I think this happened here in relation to ‘c.7,500’. Why? Probably because of my egotistical Dostoyevskian character and the difficulties of my earlier career within a very problematic art-world landscape.

I don’t recall which of the artists in the show I already knew personally at the time, but it was definitely an East Coast group, with the exception of myself and a few other artists whom I didn’t know.4 I was a feminist by then, but a West Coast feminist, specifically a Southern California feminist. None of my friends were in the show with me, and, as an émigré from the East Coast who had been showing in New York for some time, I already knew Lucy. Los Angeles had a hot Conceptual, performance, feminist scene by then, and it was getting hotter by the minute. Some of it was even centred in CalArts, where ‘c.7,500’ took place. Lucy lived in New York and, in a sense, so did ‘c.7,500’.

I always considered my work to be both Conceptual and feminist. I showed in Conceptual art exhibitions with both men and women, as well as in specifically video and photography exhibitions and theme shows relating to the new fashionable buzz words, like ‘autobiography’ and ‘narrative’. I was very active in the burgeoning performance scene. I also exhibited in a number of all-women shows and I helped organise the first all-woman exhibition in San Diego, at the Love Library in 1971.5

This correspondence took place on 12 November 2008.