Mortar and Pestle
Not on view
Overall: 47 15/16 × 47 15/16 × 1 5/8in. (121.8 × 121.8 × 4.1 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo and The Dorothea L. Leonhardt Fund at The Communities Foundation of Texas, Inc.
Rights and reproductions
© 1999 Janine Antoni
Janine Antoni’s Mortar and Pestle is a confrontational work in which the artist wanted to capture the sense of something “a little closer than intimate.” It is difficult to look casually at the close-up photograph of Antoni’s tongue (the pestle) being thrust into her husband’s open eye (the mortar)—an effect that is amplified by the image’s size. Indeed, Antoni enlarged the photograph to a scale of 4 by 4 feet, which exaggerates the minute details of skin, hair, and orifices. With its unflinching view of a close physical encounter, Mortar and Pestle probes the nature of relationships. Normally, the human eye instinctively blinks shut to ward off foreign objects, to protect sensitive tissue from harm. The open eye, then, marks a repudiation of such defense mechanisms; it also serves a metaphorical function, signaling a willingness to surrender one’s vulnerability to another. Though Mortar and Pestle may initially provoke an uneasy response, it ultimately appears to be a celebration of trust and intimacy.