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April 8, 2004

UC San Diego's University Art Gallery Presents
Eleanor Antin's The Last Days Of Pompeii

By Patricia Quill

Eleanor Antin, a pioneering conceptual artist and University of California, San Diego Emeritus Faculty, will exhibit a series of 12 large-scale color photographs titled The Last Days of Pompeii at the UC San Diego’s University Art Gallery from Apr. 17 – June 12, 2004. A reception for the artist will be held Apr. 16 from 6 to 7 p.m., and Antin will lead a walk-through of the exhibition at 5:30 p.m. Reservations are required for the walk-through, please call (858) 534 – 2107 or email

For over 30 years, Antin has engaged in a dialogue with history. She has made a career of storytelling in films, photographs and performances, and her feminist-themed work has made her one of the doyennes of the art world.

Antin’s The Last Days of Pompeii evokes narratives of a sensually decadent Roman Empire. Described by Art in America critic Eleanor Heartney as a “playful homage both to the extravagances of 19th century salon paintings (like Thomas Couture’s Romans of the Decadence) and to the Hollywood costume dramas inspired by the story of Rome in decline,” Antin’s photographs are beautiful and elaborately staged.

In her imagined Pompeii, gladiators fight to the death at a sumptuous banquet, a young girl languorously bathes in a garden pool spied on by gray haired senators, the writer Petronious celebrates his suicide with an orgy of friends and lovers, and greedy aristocrats revel in and then are asphyxiated by piles of golden coins. The resulting series of chromogenic prints are both luscious in their visceral appeal and beguiling for their multiple levels of interpretation.

Throughout Antin’s unfolding drama, one young woman in white watches from the periphery. One suspects, like the cursed prophetess Cassandra, she is aware of impending doom, but remains powerless because no one believes her story. Giving us a slice of history preserved in time, Antin presents a self-indulgent, self-absorbed society ignoring the warnings of imminent catastrophy. But she leaves explicit contemporary parallels (to current political and environmental situations) to the viewer’s imagination.

With the local San Diego area as the backdrop, Antin transformed parts of the UCSD campus and the Rancho Santa Fe home of fellow faculty member, Marianne McDonald, into a Roman villa. Antin, who lives in Del Mar, enlisted the participation of fellow UCSD faculty colleagues Sheldon Nodelman (Solana Beach), Newton Harrison (Del Mar) and Bennett Berger (La Jolla) as actors in her production. Well-known artist’s models from the area, along with students from UCSD’s theatre and visual arts departments, joined the visual spectacle as actors and set builders.

In an effort to shed light on her process, Antin will also screen rough video footage shot during the making of The Last Days of Pompeii and a feature on her work produced by Art:21 Art in the Twenty-First Century, which was broadcast nationally on PBS last year.

While Antin’s work continues to be shown widely in Los Angeles, New York and Europe, this exhibition represents the first time her work will be exhibited in her hometown since a 1977 exhibition at the La Jolla Museum of Art (now known as the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego).

The focus of a 1999 retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Antin was the recipient of the International Art Critics Association (AICA) Best Show Award for her LACMA retrospective and The Last Days of Pompeii in 2001. In addition, Antin has received a National Foundation for Jewish Culture Media Achievement Award; a Guggenheim fellowship, an NEA Individual Artist Grant and numerous other awards. Her work is in the collections of the Jewish Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, among others.

For more information about The Last Days of Pompeii or UCSD’s University Art Gallery, call (858) 534 – 2107, email or visit us at For more information about the work of Eleanor Antin, go to

Media Contact: Patricia Quill, (858) 822-0661

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