A pioneering figure in 20th-century American art, Carolee Schneemann is known for her experimental visual and performance-based practice exploring the body, gender, sexuality, and narrative.Read More
The artist's radical, iconic performances such as Meat Joy (1964) and Interior Scroll (1975), along with her films, photography, and writing, led to Schneemann's recognition as an influential figure of the feminist art movement.
Born in Pennsylvania, Schneemann gained a BA from Bard College in 1959. She completed her MFA in Painting at the University of Illinois in 1961, after which she moved to New York. Though initially a painter influenced by Neo-Dada and abstract expressionist movements, Schneemann's move to New York saw the expansion of her practice to encompass sculpture, performance, and film, particularly in relation to taboo subjects and the body.
New York's emerging Downtown performance scene saw the growing presence of experimental avantgarde artist collectives, including Judson Dance Theater, which Schneemann co-founded.
With the availability of large industrial loft spaces for studios, Schneemann began extending painterly principles to performance and sculpture. Though much of her recognition grew from her performance works, Schneemann continued to maintain a view of herself as a painter, considering the stage as a three-dimensional surface on which to make compositions with the body and other materials.
Significant early works by Carolee Schneemann include Four Fur Cutting Boards (1962—1963), a kinetic painting-sculpture hybrid comprised of cutting boards, fur scraps, glass, motorised components, and other found objects, along with bold, gestural paint strokes that revealed her painting background.
For her provocative performances Eye Body (1963) and Meat Joy (1964), Schneemann organised both her own and other performers' nude or partially-nude bodies to engage expressively with various forms of meat, found objects, and paint materials in pioneering explorations of performance and improvisation in art, aligned with the 'happenings' of the time.
Schneemann also produced numerous conceptual films, including Fuses (1964)—an explicit performance-based video exploring desire, sexuality, and eroticism—and Plumb Line (1968), an experimental narrative film.
Schneemann's works can be seen as feminist interpretations of the conceptual principles that guided the artistic movements of her era, including action painting, abstract expressionism, performance art, Fluxus, Structural film, and 'happenings'. Foregrounding her own experiences and actions, Schneemann invited her audiences to consider the body as a vessel for knowledge and experience, and the female body as a source and site for artistic expression, while challenging the inherent dominant masculinity of contemporary art discourse and practice.
One of the 20th-century's most iconic avantgarde works, Schneemann's Interior Scroll (1975) was a multi-part performance that culminated in the nude artist drawing a paper scroll out of her vagina and reading its contents aloud.
In More Than Meat Joy: Performance Works and Selected Writings (1979), Schneemann wrote: 'I thought of the vagina in many ways — physically, conceptually: as a sculptural form, an architectural referent, the source of sacred knowledge, ecstacy, birth passage, transformation. ... This source of 'interior knowledge' would be symbolized as the primary index unifying spirit and flesh ... the source of conceptualizing, of interacting with materials, of imagining the world and composing its images.'
Later works by Schneeman include Infinity Kisses I (Cluny) (1981—1987), a photographic series capturing the artist kissing her cat 140 times; Terminal Velocity (2001), a series of black-and-white newspaper scans of people falling from the World Trade Center following the 9/11 terrorist attacks; and Devour (2003—2004), a video installation juxtaposing war footage with everyday American life.
In her lifetime, Schneemann held teaching positions at the California Institute of the Arts, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Hunter College, Rutgers University, and SUNY New Paltz.
Schneemann was the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including the Maria Anto and Elsa von Freytag-Lorignhoven Art Prize (2018); the Venice Biennale's Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement (2017); Yoko Ono's Courage Award for the Arts (2012); the Women's Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award (2011); the Rockefeller Fellowship (2012); and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1993).
Carolee Schneemann's work has been included in numerous important solo and group exhibitions globally.
Select solo exhibitions include Kinetic Painting, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, and MoMA PS1, New York (2017); Infinity Kisses, The Merchant House, Amsterdam (2015); Carolee Schneemann Residency, Artist's Institute at Hunter College, New York (2015); Her Letters, G Gallery, Kunstverein Toronto (2014); Precarious, Musée departemental d'art contemporain Rochechouart (2014); Carolee Schneemann: Then and Now, MUSAC, Léon, Spain (2014).
Schneemann's work is held in collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Berkeley Museum of Art; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.; Tate Museum, London; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Reykjavik Art Museum; Hoffmann Museum, Dresden; Ludwig Collection, Cologne; and Musée départemental d'art contemporain de Rochechouart, France.
The Carolee Schneemann Foundation website can be found here.
Misong Kim | Ocula | 2021