Scope and Content of Collection
Title: David Antin papers
Date (inclusive): 1954-2006
44 Linear Feet
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles 90049-1688
The papers of performance artist,
experimental poet, curator, and critic David Antin include extensive correspondence, forty
years of diaries, published and unpublished manuscripts, working notes, teaching files, and
over 300 audiotapes and videos of lectures and performances. In particular, the archive
documents Antin's "talk pieces" which were his unique means of fusing spoken poetry with
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Language: Collection material is in English
Equal parts poet, critic, philosopher, and performance artist, David Antin (b. 1932) does
not fit easily within any standard category of artistic or academic production. Originally
trained in languages, mathematics, and science, the first ten years of Antin's career
(1955-1964) were spent as a translator of both scientific texts and fiction. By the late
1950s, Antin had begun to experiment with writing fiction and poetry, with his first
published work appearing in
Kenyon Review in 1959. By the early 1960s, Antin
had developed significantly both as a poet and as an art critic, and his 1965 articles about
Andy Warhol and Robert Morris could be said to be among the first truly analytical writings
about either artist.
By the later 1960s, Antin was becoming a key figure in New York art and literary circles.
His dynamic and charismatic speaking style became a basis for spoken-word performances that
fused elements of Fluxus and Cagean aesthetics with vanguard trends in fiction and poetry -
a practice that shared many sympathies with artists such as Jackson Mac Low and the earliest
works of Vito Acconci. Following a brief period as curator at the Institute of Contemporary
Art in Boston, Antin took a teaching position at the University of California, San Diego in
1968, where he continued teaching for the rest of his career. Early on in San Diego, Antin
was curator, and then director, of UCSD's Mandeville Art Gallery, where he organized
exhibitions by Joan Jonas, Richard Serra, Nancy Spero, Keith Sonnier, and a large group show
of Fluxus artists. Antin also helped to inaugurate the UCSD library's Special Collections
Poetry Archive, which today has grown to be one of the most significant such collections in
the country. Antin eventually became chairman of UCSD's Department of Visual Studies. Among
the many innovations of this department, and primarily at Antin's urging, UCSD's was the
first art department in the country to begin a program in video art (1971), and the first to
begin a program in computer and new media art (1974).
As an art historian, critic, and theorist, Antin's contributions have been significant, but
by no means systematic. Just as likely to write about Alex Katz as about new directions in
computer art, Antin covers an extremely broad area in his writings, including pieces about
Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Martha Graham, Piet Mondrian, Robert Morris, Yvonne Rainer, Mark
Rothko, and Andy Warhol, as well as important pieces about video art, performance,
technology, and general notions of the avant-garde and post-modernism. Antin has written
presciently about the art market throughout his career, and his writings contain one of the
most sustained arguments for the role of narrative in the visual arts. Antin has also
continued to be an extremely prolific and esteemed writer of fiction and poetry up to the
Antin's unique contribution to all of his fields of interest has been the development of
the "talk piece," a sort of spoken-word academia that fuses poetry, performance art, and
criticism into a single, persuasive form of discourse. When listened to, the talk piece
would seem to be performance art; transcribed in Antin's unique grammatical style, it reads
as poetry; and when analyzed for its intellectual content, the talk piece exists solidly as
art or literary criticism. Since developing the talk piece in 1970, Antin has continued
using it as his primary means of public discourse, both as live performance and as written
(transcribed) material. Looking at Antin's career as a whole, it is certainly this form of
discourse that ties his practice together, and which reveals the main focus of his life's
project to be an extended interrogation of how and why we make meaning in any form, visual,
verbal, or otherwise.
Open for use by qualified researchers, with the exception of unreformatted audio tapes,
video tapes and computer files.
David Antin Papers, 1954-2006, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no.
Acquired from David Antin in 2008.
The David Antin papers were initially processed by Emmabeth Nanol in 2008. In 2009 with
grant funding from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), Clare Denk
further processed the collection and made a complete inventory under the supervision of Ann
Harrison, while Annette Leddy helped devise the arrangement and wrote the descriptive notes.
In 2012, Annette Leddy processed and cataloged ADD 1, two boxes of audio cassettes, and
integrated them into the collection as Boxes 102 and 103.
The processing of the collection is preliminary. Certain materials in the collection should
be monitored periodically by Conservation. Boxes 9 and 11 include diaries needing mold
intervention and Box 76 includes water damaged photographs. Boxes 73 and 75 include
materials on faded thermofax paper.
Digitized Audio and Video Recordings
Four publications were separated to the library.
Scope and Content of Collection
The David Antin papers include diaries, extensive correspondence, published and unpublished
manuscripts, working notes, and over 300 audiotapes and videos of lectures and performances.
Privileging spontaneity and informality, Antin's work had a strong influence on
performance-based artists in the 1960s and 1970s. In particular, the archive documents
Antin's "talk pieces" which were his unique means of fusing spoken poetry with academic
The diaries and notebooks of Series I disclose Antin's recorded daily thoughts over the
past 48 years, including notes on what he is reading, drafts of writings, notes from
meetings and phone conversations, as well as mundane material (addresses, driving
directions, etc.). The notebooks progress semi-chronologically, although in no easy order,
since Antin would purposefully abandon a half-finished notebook and return to it years later
in order to make sure he was following up on earlier lines of thought. The notebooks also
contain extensive sections chronicling Antin's and his wife, Eleanor Antin's, dreams
intermittently, though persistently throughout their lives.
Antin has a well-deserved reputation as an epistolary master, and the correspondence in
Series II is dense and rich. Found within this archive are many long and theoretical
exchanges of letters that go on for years. Simple invitations to give a lecture would
receive several page answers from Antin, and would receive similar responses in return.
Antin would send out passionate and unsolicited critical responses to recent work by artists
and poets, thus initiating long series of letters, many of which would culminate in heated,
if not downright nasty, exchanges. Through the correspondence, one finds Antin giving
extraordinary and honest readings of the motivations behind his own work, while eliciting
the same from his correspondents, all of which results in a snapshot of Antin's artistic
circle throughout his career.
The audio recordings of Antin's talk pieces in Series III document the true core of his
career since 1970. Since every talk piece is "site specific" in that it is an act of
extemporaneous speaking in response to a particular environment, the talk pieces provide a
picture of Antin's thinking in a form that exists somewhere between notes and finished
writing, an area of thought that has rarely been documented by other figures. Given that
only a fraction of Antin's talk pieces have ever been published, these recordings, along
with their written transcripts, are a particularly valuable portion of the archive. The
series also includes documentation of visual works such as "Skypoem," as well as manuscripts
of writings on art, literature, and an otherwise unpredictable range of topics.
Series IV and V contain materials related to the creation and reception of Antin's work.
Research materials, such as notes, clippings, and photocopies, form Series IV. Also included
here are examples of work sent to Antin by his colleagues - writers, artists and critics.
Series V comprises reviews and analyses of Antin's work.
The final section of the archive, Series VI, draws together miscellaneous papers from David
Antin's professional life, including materials relating to his position at UCSD, financial
records, conference materials, computer files, and printed ephemera for a variety of
exhibitions and readings.
Arranged in six series:
Series I. Notebooks and diaries, 1959-2006, undated;
Series II. Correspondence, 1959-2004, undated;
Series III. Talk
pieces and written works, 1963-2006, undated;
Series IV. Research materials, 1961-2004,
V. Works about Antin, 1966-2003, undated;
Series VI. Miscellaneous professional papers, 1954-2002,
Subjects - Topics
Art criticism -- United States -- 20th century
Performance art -- United States -- 20th century
Literary criticism -- United States -- 20th century
Poetry, Modern -- 20th century
Genres and Forms of Material
Diaries -- United States -- 20th century
Diaries -- United States -- 21st century
Video recordings -- United States -- 20th century
Sound recordings -- United States -- 20th century
Sound recordings -- United States -- 21st century
Correspondence -- 20th century
Correspondence -- 21st century
Mac Low, Jackson