Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (228.10 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Separated Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: David Antin papers
    Date (inclusive): 1954-2006
    Number: 2008.M.56
    Creator/Collector: Antin, David
    Physical Description: 44 Linear Feet (103 boxes)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: 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poet, curator, and critic David Antin include extensive correspondence, forty years of diaries, published and unpublished manuscripts, working notes, teaching files, and over 300 audiotapes and videos of lectures and performances.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 academic lectures.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in English

    Biographical/Historical Note

    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 present day.
    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.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers, with the exception of unreformatted audio tapes, video tapes and computer files.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    David Antin Papers, 1954-2006, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2008.M.56.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired from David Antin in 2008.

    Processing History

    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

    Selected audio and video recordings have been digitized and are available online. 

    Digitized Material

    Selected audio and video recordings from Series III. have been digitized: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/2008m56av 

    Separated Materials

    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 lectures.
    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, undated; Series V. Works about Antin, 1966-2003, undated; Series VI. Miscellaneous professional papers, 1954-2002, undated.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Topics

    Art criticism -- United States -- 20th century
    Performance art -- United States -- 20th century
    Literary criticism -- United States -- 20th century
    Poetry, Modern -- 20th century
    Experimental poetry

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Diaries -- United States -- 20th century
    Floppy disks
    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


    Duncan, Robert
    Antin, Eleanor
    Antin, David
    Rothenberg, Jerome
    Mac Low, Jackson