Janine Antoni

Beatrice Thomas, 1996

Abandoned building, paint, drywall, linoleum, extension cord, light bulb. 

Photographed by John Bessler



Beatrice Thomas is a site-specific installation in a Harlem tenement building. Antoni worked alongside Nari Ward and Marcel Odenbach on a group exhibition in an abandoned firehouse. Each artist selected a floor, Antoni was on the top floor. While spending time in the space, Antoni was struck by visual proximity and intimacy of the adjacent abandoned tenement building.

The artist carefully renovated the room of the tenement building. She cleared the debris, painted the walls, and laid down new floors. In her renovation, Antoni matched the color and style of the last layer of paint and linoleum, in an effort to acknowledge the room's original condition. 

When visitors walked into the top floor of the firehouse, they found themselves in an empty room. A single light hung in the middle, and an orange electric cord traveled from the center of the room, out the window, along the roof, and into the window of the room in the tenement apartment building. In a shocking contrast to the adjacent existing conditions, the cheerful kitchen glowed.  

Looking out the window became a time capsule, contrasting the present to the past, when the buildings and neighborhood were thriving. The enigmatic title, Beatrice Thomas, refers to the former occupant, who was only identified through the paper left behind when the apartment was abandoned.