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Eleanor Antin in "Humor"

Eleanor Antin is at work on her photographic series The Last Days of Pompeii, a commentary on the affluent residents of the paradise of La Jolla, California. There is a comparison to be made, Antin explains, “between America, as this great colonial power, and one of the early great colonial powers, Rome.”

In her highly-theatrical films, photographs, and performance art, Antin draws from the childhood play, an infatuation with stand-up and slapstick comedy, and the tragic humor that is part of her Jewish heritage. “I always tend to see the funny side of things,” she says. “That’s the richest experience, when it’s the laughter and it’s the tears together.”

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Eleanor Antin

An influential performance artist, filmmaker, and installation artist, Eleanor Antin delves into history—whether of ancient Rome, the Crimean War, the salons of nineteenth-century Europe, or her own Jewish heritage and Yiddish culture—as a way to explore the present. Antin is a cultural chameleon, masquerading in theatrical or stage roles to expose her many selves. Her most famous persona is that of Eleanora Antinova, the tragically overlooked black ballerina of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Appearing as Antinova in scripted and non-scripted performances for over a decade, Antin has blurred the distinction between her identity and that of her character. In the process, she has created a rich body of work, detailing the multiple facets of her beloved Antinova, including a fictitious memoir and numerous films, photographs, installations, performances, and drawings.

“I always tend to see the funny side of things. That’s the richest experience, when it’s the laughter and it’s the tears together.”

Eleanor Antin

Artist Eleanor Antin discusses her photographic series The Last Days of Pompeii.

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