Janine Antoni, Lick and Lather, 1993
Gift of the Collectors Committee, 2016 (2016.49.1)
See the collection record
Lick and Lather comprises fourteen self-portrait busts that Janine Antoni cast in two materials, with seven in chocolate, and seven in soap. Each cast was identical until the artist undertook the task of licking the chocolate busts and bathing with the soap busts, hence the playful title, Lick and Lather. Antoni’s labor in making the work resulted in two sets of fourteen: seven autonomous soap-chocolate pairs and the Gallery’s fourteen busts. The number seven is significant for it represents the average number of heads measuring a full female figure, a metric used in drawing classes. In this sculpture, the artist’s self-effacing erasure differentiates her self-portrait from her self, thus Lick and Lather reflects on the inherent nature of cast sculpture as a reproductive medium. It also riffs on the idealizing representations in classical sculpture, which over time have become worn. Materially, the chocolate has a textured patination, akin to bronze, while the soap busts are smooth, resembling a cross between marble and wax. As the only extant full grouping, the Gallery’s set of Lick and Lather is the fullest iteration of Antoni’s concept.
Janine Antoni was born in the Bahamas in 1964, attended boarding school in Florida, graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, and received her M.F.A. from Rhode Island School of Design. She has lived and worked in Brooklyn for more than thirty years, accumulating awards and honors, including a “genius” grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1998. She is also on the visual arts faculty at Columbia University.
Antoni’s performative work regularly transforms the processes of daily rituals (eating, washing, sleeping, and walking) into art. To create her work, Antoni has consistently employed her body as a tool, upending more traditional modes of art making. She insists that the process becomes the end and the material the means for her work. By pushing herself to the limits of exhaustion in interacting with all the busts, Antoni references the test of ones’ body to process socially coded consumption: desire, symbolized by chocolate on the one hand, and beauty, symbolized by soap, on the other. Antoni has said, “All of my objects sort of walk the line between sculpture, performance, and relic. Any time I use performance, it’s not so much my interest in performance but my interest in bringing you back to the making.”
In 1993, the year Antoni made Lick and Lather, the artist received considerable attention. That year, she also made Loving Care, by loading her hair with dye, the titular product, Loving Care “Natural Black” used by her mother, and proceeding to paint or mop the floor of the Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London. Eventually, she covered the entire surface, and backed the viewer out of the space. Trained in dance, Antoni’s performance was deliberate and rhythmic, pushing herself once again to physical limits.
The Gallery’s set of Lick and Lather was first presented at the 1993 Venice Biennale, where it was displayed in a church, followed by a show in New York at the Sandra Gering Gallery. It has been included in important exhibitions ever since. Lick and Lather is Antoni’s most revered work, one that marks a specific moment in art history, focusing on the philosophical matters of identity that continue into the present. Altogether, it compels the viewer to consider Antoni’s process while also engaging with a long arc of art making.