A Day at the MoMA… Response to Eleanor Antin’s From the Archives of Modern Art

As I was wandering through the MoMA’s Contemporary Galleries I stumbled upon an old box television with what looked like black and white Vaudeville silent films being played on it. I was immediately drawn to the television and continued to watch the film. What I first observed was a ballerina dressed in black dancing for a man dressed in a lavish suit. She appeared to be teasing him and seducing him, but when he wanted her she refused. As she danced away from him, he grew angry drew a gun and shot her. As she fell slowly fell to the ground he followed weeping and mourning. I didn’t know exactly what to think of this film, but I thought it was beautifully tragic. I also thought that it was a feminist commentary on how when men of power do not get what they want they seek to destroy it.

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As I continued to watch, more ballerina videos played, each black and white with a title in Vaudeville style. There were headphones that could be used to listen to the music being played, so I put them on. In another clip the ballerina is on a train with two men. We see the mean in two different adjacent cars through the windows. The ballerina is serving, seducing and dancing for both men, but neither of the men know about the other. In this clip I think the commentary being made is how normal in society it is for men to play multiple women without their knowledge, but women are not supposed to do it. Women are “supposed” to be with one man.

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I stayed and watched a third clip. Again there was a Vaudeville style title and music playing throughout. This film was titled, The Ballerina and the Poet. In the clip the poet is in his home and appears to have trouble with inspiration then the ballerina appears at his doorstep. The poet sits and the ballerina dances for him lasciviously. She seduces him and he joins her on the bed. They are intertwined and the camera zooms in on their feet, which go from rubbing slowly to very quickly and is obviously indicative of an orgasm. Then the deed has been done, the poet is now inspired and the ballerina dances out the door not to be seen again. This clip is a commentary on how men use women for their purposes then send them on their way. The poet needed “inspiration”, the ballerina came right away to “inspire” him, and then he had her leave. The purpose of the ballerina (woman) is solely for man’s pleasure.

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At the end of the video a clip plays that says that they video compilation was found at an abandoned film studio. The videos of the ballerina Eleanora Antinova who, during the Great Depression, appeared in “questionable” Vaudeville films.

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The absence of color represents the nature of the film dealing with sexism historically and in film and media. Women have historically been portrayed as sex objects to serve men’s pleasures. Eleanora Antinova was an “alter ego” of the artist Eleanor Antin. She was a black ballerina in the Great Depression era who was celebrated, but forced to return to American and dance in Vaudeville films which are historically both racist and sexist. Eleanor Antin created this work called From the Archives of Modern Art in 1987. It was meant to look like Vaudeville films and is a powerful commentary on sexism in film and in American culture. My assumptions from watching the film and what it was supposed to represent were pretty closely aligned. I was not familiar with Eleanor Antin previously and had trouble grasping the “alter ego” concept at first. Information about the artwork only further emphasized the issues of sexism in our culture, which I greatly enjoyed. 

One thought on “A Day at the MoMA… Response to Eleanor Antin’s From the Archives of Modern Art

  1. Throughout history sexism has been countlessly discussed and represented in artwork, film, and other various forms of media. But this has not seemed to solve these problems; stereotypes and stigmas associated with woman still thrive on to this day. Your musings and analysis gives greater insight to the films. The fact that the figure representing women is a ballerina, which has a very strong feminine

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