Janine Antoni’s work is comfortably cemented in contemporary art history. Documentation of her 1993 performance Loving Care—in which she mopped a gallery floor with her dye-soaked hair—is a staple of art school lectures. She remains active today, producing polyurethane and marble sculptures, videos, and performances. During an absorbing lecture at the University of Texas in Austin earlier this month, Antoni stressed that the question driving her work is: “How can I show my process of making on the surface of the object?” “Paper Dance,” on view at the Contemporary Austin’s Jones Center through March 17, is a messy, participatory, perpetually in-process exhibition gathering thirty years of work by Antoni. It is accompanied by a program of fifteen iterations of a 2013 solo dance piece, also titled Paper Dance, that she developed in collaboration with pioneering postmodern choreographer Anna Halprin. Antoni’s idiosyncratic curiosity unfolds in real time, and the show nods to “Ally,” her experimental survey at the Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia in 2016, which included Paper Dance performances along with other movement collaborations with Halprin and experimental choreographer Stephen Petronio. A traditional retrospective might have made Antoni’s output too tidy, betraying how intermittently inglorious her working methods, which famously include gnawing on quarter-ton cubes of chocolate and lard, can be.
“Paper Dance” has gone through a consistent public evolution over the last two months, as the artist and the museum’s art handlers have publicly unpacked and installed, then deinstalled and repacked, more than thirty works as viewers watch. The exhibition’s composition and arrangement has shifted over three phases to address three core themes in turn: motherhood, identity, and absence. The shipping crates that Antoni’s works arrived in are a constant presence, and have been reconfigured regularly in the installation. But any exultation of the crates’ materiality gets complicated by their additional, utilitarian function as seating for performance audiences. “Paper Dance,” with its three phases organizing the artist’s oeuvre conceptually, intuitively, and playfully, rather than chronologically, has been a clever installation-as-choreography that advances Antoni’s career-long goal of demystifying her process.
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