34 Orchard Street
February 24 - April 9
Eleanor Antin’s 100 Boots, 1971–73, on view here, plays well to our current state of alienation. The exhibition readdresses the piece’s political subtext while bringing to light recently rediscovered B sides from this seminal work. With deadpan humor, Antin ridiculed the Vietnam War, issuing her protest in the form of fifty-one postcards, each depicting fifty pairs of military-grade rubber boots gallivanting in different parts of the American landscape. The narrative slowly unfolded in the mailboxes of somewhere between six hundred and a thousand recipients, with boots goofily trespassing under fences, riding roller coasters, or traipsing in a meadow. They stand at attention, evoking rows of dead soldiers. Antin attributes the pronoun he to the project throughout her archival materials—militarism and maleness, after all, fit so well together. She and others were quick to pun on the title, too, as in the 1973 New York Times headline “100 Boots’ to End Cross-Country ‘March’ at Museum.”
The new/old works read like grievances and escapist fantasies from the Nixon era. They also draw out the immediacy of her project and emphasize that the dematerialization of the art object still requires a tight crop. 100 Boots at the Checkpoint. San Onofre, California. February 15, 1972, 10:20 a.m., 1972, forms a serendipitous link between that time and the present, as the boots line up on the customs checkpoint at the US-Mexico border. Perhaps Antin thought the image was too unambiguously critical, hence it was cut from the original piece. Another picture offers up Antin’s mother playing a clairvoyant (Untitled [Eleanor Antin’s Mother Telling the BOOTS’ Fortune], 1973), while Untitled (100 Boots and the Artist Under the Brooklyn Bridge), 1973, captures the artist’s New York homecoming from the West Coast. Why revisit this series today? An important lesson from the counterculture: There’s no wrong way to protest.