1 Exhuming McCarthy

In a phone interview with CityBeat last Thursday, Eleanor Antin insisted that she couldn’t talk long; she needed to rest her voice. She had a reading that night at the Brooklyn Museum and another on Friday at The Whitney. Those followed two others, also in New York, where she was born and raised—meaning there were old friends to see and lots of conversations to have.

Not helping is that Antin’s readings go beyond what’s on the page; she’s an engaging storyteller who pulls her audience into her quirky, colorful life. An artist by profession—Antin’s a professor emeritus of visual arts at UCSD and the wife of poet David Antin—her films, photography and installations have been shown at places like L.A. County Museum of Art, Tate Modern, the Chicago Institute of Art and the Venice Biennale. In 2008, the San Diego Museum of Art exhibited her Historical Takes, a series of staged photographs that, via elaborate sets and costumed models, draw parallels between ancient myths and modern issues.

Antin, who’s a young 77, was in New York to read from her new book Conversations with Stalin, her dark-humor memoir about growing up a “red-diaper baby,” the daughter of Jewish immigrant parents who believed that “Comrade Stalin” could do no wrong.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, she’ll be at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s La Jolla location (700 Prospect St., mcasandiego.org). The event is free with $10 museum admission.

Actually, “manuscript” is a better word for Conversations with Stalin’s current form. The book’s not yet been published (though you can find early excerpts online), but will be soon by L.A.-based Green Integer Press, which specializes in subversive, provocative texts. In other words, what Antin’s doing isn’t a book tour.

“I call it a performance reading,” she says. A trained actor, her art almost always includes an element of theater.

“I think the book will be great for people to read,” she says. “But it is a different experience when it’s performative in this way.” 

2 Late bloomer

Not everyone discovers a calling early in life. Renowned African-American artist Bill Traylor certainly didn’t. He was a former slave who didn’t put colored pencil to cardboard to create interesting, primitive illustrations of his daily surroundings in Depression-era Montgomery, Ala., until he was in his early 80s. The decade before his death in 1949 was a prolific one for the artist, who drew 1,200 pieces during that time. More than 60 of them will be on view at Bill Traylor: Drawings from the Collections of the High Museum of Art and the Montgomery Museum of Art, opening Saturday, Feb. 9, at Mingei International Museum (1439 El Prado in Balboa Park). Come back to Mingei on Monday, Feb. 11, for a performance based on Traylor’s life by Antonio TJ Johnson. mingei.org

3 Strings of fire

The string quartet may be a dusty old way of playing music—about as standard-issue as a rock combo—but plenty of young folks have given it new life in recent years. One of them is The Parker Quartet. Regarded as one of the premier quartets in the country, the Grammy-winning group is known to give remarkable performances full of virtuosity and soul, whether they’re playing at a concert hall or in a bar. While some contemporaries have dallied in pop fare, The Parker Quartet mostly keeps it studious, balancing the likes of Beethoven and 20th-century composers like Béla Bartók and György Ligeti. They’ll perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12, at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library (1008 Wall St. in La Jolla). Tickets are $45 and include a post-performance reception. ljathenaeum.org

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