where are you going?
from here to there?
do you ever get there?
i don’t know
i’m only a passenger—just like you
(from an Egyptian tomb)
As you round the corner of the entryway at Diane Rosenstein where this phrase is visible, the first works on view in Eleanor Antin’s Passengers are two massive photographs from her 2004 series Roman Allegories. Going Home is almost 9 feet wide and 4 feet tall. It depicts a very blonde girl seated on a suitcase plastered with travel stickers, looking off to the right of the camera, smiling in a forced, staged manner. She sits as though posing for a children’s clothing catalogue, but is dressed in Hellenic Roman garb and is surrounded by vague Roman detritus (pieces of columns, an urn, vague statues), a crow, and five adult figures all dressed similarly with their backs to the camera, facing the ocean. All of the characters hold umbrellas as if waiting for a deluge while already knowing their fate.
This piece works as a kind of beginning and ending, encapsulating the feeling inherent in Passengers—an existential question about life, death, culture. and the point of it all—with a humorous spin. Passengers is a retrospective of Antin’s work, but not in a way that I expected at all. Anyone familiar with Antin’s oeuvre knows that she was a pioneer of early conceptual and performance art. She created and developed characters—Nurse Eleanor, the black ballerina Eleanora Antinova, and the King of Solano Beach—but very few references to her work with the self exist in this show. In a separate small room toward the entrance of the gallery, all fifty-one photographs from her 100 Boots series are on display. This is the piece that made her famous in her 1973 MOMA show and it is one of the earliest examples of narrative conceptual art. Antin photographed 100 boots in various locations and mailed them to 1,000 people and institutions over two years. She conceived of this project as a sort of “pictorial novel” in which you can see the boots on a long journey. They begin at the sea (100 Boots Facing the Sea), do some mundane chores (100 Boots at the Bank; 100 Boots in the Market), commit their first crime (100 Boots Trespass), go to work (100 Boots on the Job), head east to New York, and eventually end up at the museum. In my favorite, 100 Boots on the Porch, Antin’s playful humor is evident: Some are lazing, some are daredevils perched on a ledge, while others are casually standing, facing each other—one can almost hear them talking to each other about the day’s events. This is a classic piece, one that is great to see in person and within the conceptual framework of this show.