Before the Revolution, Eleanor Antin, 1979
Reperformance at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 2012.
Eleanor Antin’s Before the Revolution was the grand finale of the Performance and Public Art Festival. Staged as an evening-length play at the Hammer Museum, it was a reworking of Antin’s original narrative piece, performed by her and large Masonite dolls at The Kitchen in New York in 1979, for this expanded return. The play follows one of Antin’s well-known characters, Eleanora Antinova, the black ballerina. In the 1970s, Antin, whose work brought eccentric theatricality to the emergent performance art of the time, not only performed Antinova, but attempted to live as her for a period, wearing slightly dark makeup and enacting a convoluted fantasy through which race, gender, and artistic mastery were cleverly entangled. While Antin’s practice of cross-racial performance did and does raise eyebrows, it was a rare instance of racism being critically addressed within the milieu of that era’s dominantly white cadre of influential artists. In Antinova’s scripted arguments with her ballet master, questions of representation are tied to the powers of Eurocentrism and framed through estranged performances, drawing attention to ideas of performativity that would be more fully articulated in the art and writing of coming decades. The questions raised earlier about inclusion and representation are acted out in Antinova’s insistence that she play Marie Antoinette, and Diaghilev’s insistence that she cannot, that her body only authorizes her to play Cleopatra or Pocahontas.
-Malik Gaines via Art Journal