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Karen Finley

Karen Finley

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Karen Finley is an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 performance artist, whose theatrical pieces and recordings have often been labelled "obscene
An obscenity is any statement or act which strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time, is a profanity, or is otherwise taboo, indecent, abhorrent, or disgusting, or is especially inauspicious...

" due to their graphic depictions of sexuality, abuse, and disenfranchisement. She was notably one of the NEA Four
NEA Four
The "NEA Four", Karen Finley, Tim Miller, John Fleck, and Holly Hughes, were performance artists whose proposed grants from the United States government's National Endowment for the Arts were vetoed by John Frohnmayer in June 1990. Grants were overtly vetoed on the basis of subject matter after...

, four performance artists whose grants from the National Endowment for the Arts
National Endowment for the Arts
The National Endowment for the Arts is an independent agency of the United States federal government that offers support and funding for projects exhibiting artistic excellence. It was created by an act of the U.S. Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. Its current...

 were vetoed in 1990 by John Frohnmayer after the process was condemned by Senator Jesse Helms
Jesse Helms
Jesse Alexander Helms, Jr. was a five-term Republican United States Senator from North Carolina who served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1995 to 2001...

 under "decency" issues.


Having received an MFA
Master of Fine Arts
A Master of Fine Arts is a graduate degree typically requiring 2–3 years of postgraduate study beyond the bachelor's degree , although the term of study will vary by country or by university. The MFA is usually awarded in visual arts, creative writing, filmmaking, dance, or theatre/performing arts...

 from the San Francisco Art Institute
San Francisco Art Institute
San Francisco Art Institute is a school of higher education in contemporary art with the main campus in the Russian Hill district of San Francisco, California. Its graduate center is in the Dogpatch neighborhood. The private, non-profit institution is accredited by WASC and is a member of the...

, Finley procured her first NEA grant and moved to New York City. She quickly became part of the city's art scene, collaborating with artists such as the Kipper Kids
The Kipper Kids
The Kipper Kids are contemporary artists who live and work in New York, USA, and Scarborough, United Kingdom.-Biography:Martin von Haselberg and Brian Routh are a performance duo...

 (Brian Routh — whom she married/divorced — and Martin von Haselberg) and David Wojnarowicz
David Wojnarowicz
David Wojnarowicz was a painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist, and activist who was prominent in the New York City art world of the 1980s.-Biography:...


Finley's early recordings featured her ranting provocative monologues over disco
Disco is a genre of dance music. Disco acts charted high during the mid-1970s, and the genre's popularity peaked during the late 1970s. It had its roots in clubs that catered to African American, gay, psychedelic, and other communities in New York City and Philadelphia during the late 1960s and...

 beats (and she would often perform her songs late night at the famed club Danceteria
Danceteria was a well-known four-floor nightclub located in New York City which operated from 1980 until 1986 and in the Hamptons until 1995. Throughout its history, the club had seven different locations, three in NYC and four in the Hamptons...

, where she worked). These recordings include the singles "Tales of Taboo" from 1986 and "Lick It" from 1988 (both produced by Madonna
Madonna (entertainer)
Madonna is an American singer-songwriter, actress and entrepreneur. Born in Bay City, Michigan, she moved to New York City in 1977 to pursue a career in modern dance. After performing in the music groups Breakfast Club and Emmy, she released her debut album in 1983...

 collaborator Mark Kamins
Mark Kamins
Mark Kamins is a New York club DJ.He is best known for helping launch the career of one-time girlfriend Madonna by presenting a demo to Seymour Stein of Sire Records. He also produced her first single "Everybody" in 1982...

) plus the 1988 album, The Truth Is Hard To Swallow (re-released on CD, with a slightly different track listing, as Fear Of Living in 1994; in conjunction with the re-release, both "Tales Of Taboo" and "Lick It" appeared on 12-inch again with new remixes by Super DJ Dmitri, Junior Vasquez
Junior Vasquez
Junior Vasquez, , is an American club DJ and remixer/producer.-Career:...

, and other DJs of note). She collaborated with Sinéad O'Connor
Sinéad O'Connor
Sinéad Marie Bernadette O'Connor is an Irish singer-songwriter. She rose to fame in the late 1980s with her debut album The Lion and the Cobra and achieved worldwide success in 1990 with a cover of the song "Nothing Compares 2 U"....

's on "Jump in the River," and was prominently sampled by S'Express
S'Express were a British dance music act from the late 1980s, who had one of the earliest commercial successes in the acid house genre."Theme from S'Express", based on Rose Royce's "Is It Love You're After", was also one of the earliest recordings to capitalize on a resurgence of sampling culture...

 on the classic dance floor cut-up, "Theme from S'Express
Theme from S'Express
"Theme from S-Express" is an acid house song by English dance music band S'Express from their album Original Soundtrack. It is widely regarded as a pivotal moment in dance music history and is notable for introducing acid house culture to the UK's charts....

" (her "Drop that ghetto blaster/suck me off" vocal - sampled from "Tales of Taboo" - formed something of a chorus in the song).

In 1991 she created the Memento Mori installation in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, as part of the Burning the Flag? festival examining American live art and censorship.

In 1994, she released a double-disc set on the Rykodisc
Rykodisc Records is an American record label. It is owned by Warner Music Group, operates as a unit of WMG's Independent Label Group and is distributed through Alternative Distribution Alliance.-Company history:...

 label, A Certain Level of Denial, a studio version of the performance piece. Following that piece came The Return of the Chocolate-smeared Woman, her performance rebuttal to Helms and the NEA controversy. The U.S. Congress, controlled by Democrats at the time of the controversy, imposed restrictions on grants for indecent art. The Republican-appointed NEA head, John Frohnmayer, took the side of the targeted artists, which included Finley.

Finley has expressed delight at the fact that she appeared in Playboy
Playboy is an American men's magazine that features photographs of nude women as well as journalism and fiction. It was founded in Chicago in 1953 by Hugh Hefner and his associates, and funded in part by a $1,000 loan from Hefner's mother. The magazine has grown into Playboy Enterprises, Inc., with...

(in July, 1999) and received a Ms. Magazine
Ms. magazine
Ms. is an American feminist magazine co-founded by American feminist and activist Gloria Steinem and founding editor Letty Cottin Pogrebin together with founding editors Patricia Carbine, Joanne Edgar, Nina Finkelstein, and Mary Peacock, that first appeared in 1971 as an insert in New York magazine...

Woman of the Year award within months of each other. She was also featured in TIME
Time is a part of the measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change such as the motions of objects....

during this period, though she felt that the magazine misrepresented her by "eroticizing" works (such as one that addressed rape) based on her nudity alone; in other words, that they couldn't absorb any information beyond her naked body.

Among Finley's books are Shock Treatment, Enough is Enough: Weekly Meditations for Living Dysfunctionally, the Martha Stewart satire Living it Up: Humorous Adventures in Hyperdomesticity, Pooh Unplugged (detailing the eating and psychological disorders of Winnie the Pooh and his friends), and A Different Kind of Intimacy - the latter a collection of her works. Her poem "The Black Sheep" is among her best-known works, and has been immortalized on a sculpture in New York City.

She has also created gallery installations that include together decorated walls, inscriptions, manufactured libraries of imaginary books, mock documents and objects associated with real and imagined persons.

The Karen Finley Live DVD (2004) compiles performances of Shut Up and Love Me and Make Love. Finley also played a doctor in the movie Philadelphia
Philadelphia (film)
Philadelphia is a 1993 American drama film that was one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to acknowledge HIV/AIDS, homosexuality and homophobia. It was written by Ron Nyswaner and directed by Jonathan Demme. The film stars Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington...

starring Tom Hanks. Finley revived a slightly updated version of "Make Love" September 10–11, 2008 at the Cutting Room in New York to commemorate the seventh anniversary of 9/11; she will mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11 with a performance of "Make Love" at the Laurie Beechman Theatre in Times Square
Times Square
Times Square is a major commercial intersection in the borough of Manhattan in New York City, at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue and stretching from West 42nd to West 47th Streets...


In 2009, Finley created a memorial at the concentration camp in Gusen, Austria to commemorate the murder of 420 Jewish children by the Nazis in February, 1945. The installation, "Open Heart," was created with the assistance of Austrian school children, and assisted by the Austrian artist Hannes Priesch.  In 2011, she lectured at the Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art is an art museum in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, on 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It has been important in developing and collecting modernist art, and is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world...

 in New York about Music and Art, reflecting on her inclusion in the MOMA
Moma may refer to:* Moma , an owlet moth genus* Moma Airport, a Russian public airport* Moma District, Nampula, Mozambique* Moma River, a right tributary of the Indigirka River* Google Moma, the Google corporate intranet...

 exhibition Music 3.0 of her composition Tales of Taboo.

In 2011, Finley published The Reality Shows through The Feminist Press
The Feminist Press
The Feminist Press is an independent nonprofit literary publisher that promotes freedom of expression and social justice. It publishes exciting writing by women and men who share an activist spirit and a belief in choice and equality...

 at CUNY, a compendium of her work from 2001-2010.


Finley's work was influenced by her professor at San Francisco Art Institute, Linda Montana, and also by Howard Fried
Howard Fried
Howard Fried is an American conceptual artist who became known in the 1970s for his pioneering work in video art, performance art, and installation art.He lives and works in Vallejo, California.-Biography:...

. She was influenced by jazz artists such as Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday was an American jazz singer and songwriter. Nicknamed "Lady Day" by her friend and musical partner Lester Young, Holiday had a seminal influence on jazz and pop singing...

 and the beat poets of San Francisco such as Gregory Corso
Gregory Corso
Gregory Nunzio Corso was an American poet, youngest of the inner circle of Beat Generation writers...

 and Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg
Irwin Allen Ginsberg was an American poet and one of the leading figures of the Beat Generation in the 1950s. He vigorously opposed militarism, materialism and sexual repression...

. In 2011, she was especially honored to read from her ten-year retrospective, "The Reality Shows," at City Lights Bookstore
City Lights Bookstore
City Lights is an independent bookstore-publisher combination that specializes in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics. It also houses the nonprofit City Lights Foundation, which publishes selected titles related to San Francisco culture. It was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence...

 in San Francisco, the publisher of her first book "Shock Treatment
Shock Treatment
Shock Treatment is a 1981 musical-black comedy film and a follow-up to the film The Rocky Horror Picture Show. While not an outright sequel, the movie does feature several characters from the movie portrayed by different actors and several Rocky Horror actors portraying new characters...



Finley is the recipient of both an Obie Award
Obie Award
The Obie Awards or Off-Broadway Theater Awards are annual awards given by The Village Voice newspaper to theatre artists and groups in New York City...

 and a Guggenheim Fellowship
Guggenheim Fellowship
Guggenheim Fellowships are American grants that have been awarded annually since 1925 by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to those "who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts." Each year, the foundation makes...

 for The American Chestnut, and was chosen as Coagula Art Journal
Coagula Art Journal
Coagula Art Journal was founded in 1992 by Mat Gleason as a freely distributed contemporary art magazine. Since its inception, the publication remains free as a PDF download, however readers may still obtain a hard copy via "print on demand"....

 Artist of the Decade as the 90's came to a close. Finley is a Professor at New York University
New York University
New York University is a private, nonsectarian research university based in New York City. NYU's main campus is situated in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan...

 in the Tisch
Tisch may refer to:*Tisch School of the Arts at New York University*Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University* Tisch Library, the main library of Tufts University*Tisch, a novel by Stephen Dixon-People:...

 School, where she teaches at both the undergraduate and graduate level. She is a frequent lecturer at the Guggenheim
Guggenheim may refer to:* Benjamin Guggenheim* Charles Guggenheim* Davis Guggenheim* Guggenheim Building* Guggenheim family* Guggenheim Fellowship* Guggenheim Museum * Harry Frank Guggenheim* John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation...

 Museum in New York City. Finley was awarded an honorary doctorate from the San Francisco Art Institute
San Francisco Art Institute
San Francisco Art Institute is a school of higher education in contemporary art with the main campus in the Russian Hill district of San Francisco, California. Its graduate center is in the Dogpatch neighborhood. The private, non-profit institution is accredited by WASC and is a member of the...


External links