Literature Program

Friday, January 5, 2001 — Sunday, January 7, 2001


Presented at:

Notorious performance artist, visual artist, author, screen actor, TV personality, and Supreme Court defendant Karen Finley first performed in Hallwalls in 1982, four years before C. Carr’s 1986 cover story in the Village Voice turned the national spotlight on Finley, by that time a popular East Village club performer, thereby sparking a controversy that has never died down.
Finley returned to Hallwalls in 1987 and again in 1992, by which time she was already one of the so-called "NEA Four" whose suit against the agency for yanking their 1990 grants was slowly making its way up through the federal courts. Despite her growing fame, Finley came to Buffalo that time for no fee to perform A Certain Level of Denial to a sold-out house of 900+ at Rockwell Hall as a benefit for a then financially-struggling Hallwalls. While in Buffalo, she also created an austerely moving installation in our gallery (then still at 700 Main St.) entitled Written in Sand that she later developed for a major show at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

In 1996, Finley performed five shows (most sold out) in our then new Black ‘n’ Blue Theatre of her critically acclaimed solo performance The American Chestnut. In 1998 the Supreme Court, in its decision in the case that will go down in Constitutional history as "National Endowment for the Arts, et al., Petitioners v. Karen Finley et al.," reversed the favorable ruling of the Court of Appeals. Five days after that chilling decision upholding "general standards of decency" in judging federally-funded art, the Whitney Museum cancelled Finley’s scheduled installation. (Just a few months before, Ms. magazine had named her its "Woman of the Year" for 1998.) In March of 1999, Finley was named "Artist of the Decade" for the 1990s by Coagula Art Journal, topping a list that also included, among others, Cindy Sherman (‘80s), Andy Warhol (‘60s), Robert Rauschenberg (‘50s), Willem de Kooning (‘40s), Man Ray (‘30s), Marcel Duchamp (‘10s), and Pablo Picasso (‘00s). She posed for Playboy’s July ‘99 issue with a can of Hershey’s syrup and Bill Maher, on whose ABC late-night show Politically Incorrect Finley is a frequent guest. Now Finley brings what is perhaps her most sensational work to date, Shut Up and Love Me, to Hallwalls’ Black ‘n’ Blue Theatre for three performances only. (As predicted, tickets started selling like hotcakes as soon as people got their December calendars!)

Performance artist and critic Maura Nguyen Donohue speaks of the work’s "overwhelming intimacy": "Karen Finley is a relentless force. She is a performer who constantly shifts between a state of ‘on’ and a state of ‘ON!’ From the moment she appears masturbating in a tight red dress and high black heels to the moment just before exiting, naked and covered in honey, she is a blatant and unapologetic torrent of the psycho and the sexual.…She slices through tales of a woman overcome by historically female neuroses with a razor-sharp wit and intense self awareness.…Her powerful performance lies not only in her outrageous inappropriateness in speech or deed but also in her ability to turn her fantastic-unkempt-red-hair-long-legged-small-waisted-well-breasted body into an instrument of terror. Whether she is barking like a dog, enacting a tongue-sucking dance, or, even, playfully rolling in honey, she is a demon caught in corporeal glory. Sharing the same space with her is frightening, exhausting, and exhilarating.…That Finley’s work is still considered explicit and shocking is a startling reminder of how far women’s sexual liberation has still not come" (Flash Review 2, 10/10/00).

Ken Dinitz writes that Finley’s "blatant nudity and habit of interrupting her performance monologues to critique herself demonstrated both power and insecurity that contrast with the objectification usually associated with female nudity. Finley began by doing a slapstick satire of a striptease. The audience seemed almost shocked when she started taking off her clothes, but by the end the crowd rippled with laughter. Finley’s early excess allowed viewers to avoid obsessing about her various states of undress and pay attention to the pieces she performed instead.…She performed with an angry and defiant energy that seemed to come from trying to be herself in a society that does not know how to look in the eyes of an intelligent and striking woman.…Finley has important things to say, things that need to be said and that are hard to talk about.…There are not many places for people to talk about seduction and lust and how it feels to be part of these adventures. We need to communicate about these things through art" (Anchorage Daily News, 9/26/2000).

"To watch Finley climactically, and winkingly, cavort naked on a mat covered in thick honey is to subvert any preconceptions you have about the idea of true abandon, and more, to appreciate the still sadly rare sight of an empowered woman letting it all hang out" (Steve Wiecking, Seattle Stranger, 2/24/00). "For so long, Finley has mined the exploitative, violent, and dark chambers of sex that to see her bask in the heat of seduction and empower her personae with humor and passion may come as a pleasant surprise" (James Hannaham, Village Voice, 12/7/99). The Voice’s visual art critic Peter Schjeldhal has hailed Finley as "a historical figure from an epoch when art was conceived as an arena of officially sanctioned, somehow socially beneficial anarchy." "We need Finley: she doesn’t duck the bullets, she keeps her eyes peeled on the artillery aimed at women, and she continues to push against her boundaries as an artist. At its best, Finley’s art rips big, unspoken, and difficult-to-articulate secrets out of closets. It is the commonness of what she taps that makes it disturbing—as well as the enjoyment she takes in smushing around in dirty [or sticky] stuff and thrusting it in people’s faces" (Laurie Stone, Ms., January/February 1998). Shut Up and Love Me is Karen Finley’s art at its best.

Her just published new book, A Different Kind of Intimacy: The Collected Writings of Karen Finley (a Memoir) (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2000), will be available for sale by Talking Leaves at all performances, and Karen will be around after each show to sign copies and meet the audience.

Some publications related to this event:
January, 2001 - 2001