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Carolee Schneemann Artworks

American Performance Artist and Video Artist

Carolee Schneemann Photo
Movements and Styles: Feminist Art, Performance Art, Body Art

Born: October 12, 1939 - Fox Chase, Pennsylvania

Died: March 6, 2019 - New Paltz, New York

Artworks by Carolee Schneemann

The below artworks are the most important by Carolee Schneemann - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Three Figures After Pontormo (1957)

This Abstract Expressionist-inspired painting is one of Schneemann's early works, done before she started exploring other media. The title refers to the Mannerist painter Jacopo da Pontormo, known for his elaborately posed figures. Although abstract, this painting is not completely non-objective, as there is a central nude figure with his back to the viewer and another figure on the left of the canvas. Schneemann has always stated that she is first and foremost a painter and that anything else she did was an extension of painting. The gestural brushwork and action painting of the Abstract Expressionist style provides the theatrical background for her later work that would move beyond the two-dimensions found on canvas.

Eye Body (1963)

Eye Body is a series that consists of thirty-six photographs of the artist in an environment she created with various objects such as broken mirrors, dress mannequins, and plastic tarps. To become a piece of the art herself, Schneemann covered herself in various materials including grease, chalk, and plastic and created thirty-six "transformative actions" in the setting while a colleague photographed her, one action for each frame of film. She describes the series as integrating the artist's self as image and image-maker, melding the two through an improvisational collage in space and time. The series marks her transition from painting to working with a much wider range of media. When she first showed the photographs to curators, they dismissed the suite as purely narcissistic exhibitionism; however, Schneemann viewed the set as a way for her to reclaim the strength of a woman's sexuality. She stated that, "since the female body had always been usurped by traditions of art history and then by Pop art, ... I wanted to see what would happen with this energy of sensuality... that I felt." Clearly influential on her later works, Eye Body paved the way for Schneemann to use her body to explore female sensuality in greater detail in works like Meat Joy (1964) and Fuses (1964-1967).

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Meat Joy (1964)

Meat Joy was a performance done first in Paris, then filmed and photographed at the Judson Memorial Church in 1964,and consisted of nude men and women dancing and playing with substances like raw chicken, fish, sausage, scraps of paper, and wet paint. This Dionysian-inspired ritualistic rite was a "celebration of flesh as material" and is similar to Kaprow's happenings, as it used improvisation but focused on the concept behind the work as opposed to its execution. Rooted in erotic sensuality, Meat Joy is another early manifestation of Schneemann's concern about women's control over their bodies and their sexuality, as it emphasizes that women can be as overtly and openly sexual or sensual as men. Schneemann wanted to challenge social taboos against open and public sensuality, as well as female sexuality, and used this performance to begin to break down existing barriers.

Interior Scroll (1975)

For her performance at the Women Here and Now conference in East Hampton, Long Island, Schneemann entered the room covered in a sheet with only an apron beneath. She disrobed in the center of the space, climbed onto a table where she outlined her body in mud and struck "action poses" as if for a life-drawing class. She read from her book C├ęzanne, She Was a Great Painter, and then slowly extracted a paper scroll from her vagina and read from it. Schneemann drew upon ritualism while using her whole body as an integral part of the art; she stated, "I thought of the vagina in many ways - physically, conceptually, as a sculptural form, an architectural referent, the source of sacred knowledge, ecstasy, birth passage, transformation." According to art critic Robert C. Morgan, Interior Scroll must be understood within the contemporary context of the 1970s and feminist art in particular: by locating the root of artistic creativity at her genitals, Schneemann shifted away from the masculine precedent in art toward a feminist exploration of her body.

Up to and Including Her Limits (1973-1976)

Inspired by the physicality of Pollock's painting technique, Schneemann translated that gesture into performance. She was suspended in a harness, nude and drew on the wall and floor with a crayon. The movement of her body was more important than the marks she made; it was this movement that was the art and is clearly inspired by her work in kinetic theater at the Judson Memorial Church. The rhythmic motions of Schneemann swinging back and forth at different speeds have an almost therapeutic effect and this piece was created after a particularly difficult time in her life. Schneemann performed the piece at various locations throughout 1973-1976, with many performances in New York City, but also in California, England, and Europe as well. In 1984, Schneemann created a video by editing footage from six of these performances together.

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Hand/Heart for Ana Mendieta (1986)

Schneemann created this work as a multi-media homage to her friend and colleague, artist Ana Mendieta. Schneemann based the work on a dream she had about Mendieta right after her death from falling from an apartment window during a fight with her boyfriend artist Carl Andre (it is not clear whether Mendieta fell or was pushed). Upon waking from the dream, Schneemann first ran into the snow, then returned inside and started making drawings of the image from the dream - "Ana's hands falling in empty space." She saw the hand gestures form hearts, and then saw herself drenched in red paint that became blood. The dream was choreographed into a performance in which Schneemann etched the heart shapes into the snow with her bare hands, using paint, blood, ashes, and syrup. A photographer who specialized in photographing accidents recorded the performance, and the action persists in the photographs that make the central panel of the triptych. The hands and the red hearts of this panel echo Mendieta's piece Blood Sign 2 where Mendieta smeared blood onto a wall with her hands. The side panels consist of painted images that echo the hand/heart theme of the performance and demonstrate Schneemann's continued dedication to painting.

Related Artists and Major Works

Etant donnes (1946-66)

Artist: Marcel Duchamp (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Installed behind a heavy wooden door that was found in Spain and shipped to New York, Etant donnes consists of a diorama viewed through two eyeholes. The scene depicts a nude woman, possibly dead, with her legs splayed, holding an illuminated gas lamp. A mountainous landscape, based on a photo Duchamp shot in Switzerland, creates the background setting. Built in secret over a period of more than twenty years, Etant donnes is considered Duchamp's second major work. He made an entire manual for its installation, which is reproduced in facsimile and available in print. At first glance, Etant donnes is a direct reference to Courbet's painting, Origine du Monde (1866). Yet upon closer consideration, the piece can be viewed as a reflection on the boundaries between artist and spectator, as a means to question self-consciousness, or as a meditation on spiritual purpose through the symbolism of a lit lamp.

Excavation (1950)

Artist: Willem de Kooning (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Even as he returned to figuration in the late 1940s, he embarked on another abstraction, Excavation at the same time. Just over six-and-a-half-feet tall and eight-feet wide, Excavation is not as monumental as some later Abstract Expressionist paintings, but it is the biggest painting de Kooning ever made. The pictorial space de Kooning depicted on the canvas was closely tied to his own embodied sense of space in the physical world. In a talk he wrote for the Artists' Club, de Kooning explained, "If I stretch my arms next to the rest of myself and wonder where my fingers are - that is all the space I need as a painter." In other words, de Kooning's canvases are born at the fullest extension of his arms, where his fingers hold the brush that touches the canvases. To move beyond this scale one risks losing the human intimacy of the space.

The bulk of the surface is covered with dirty white, cream, and yellowish shapes outlined with black and gray lines. Throughout the canvas, one sees passages of crimson, blue, magenta, gold, and aqua. The effect is an all-over composition with no single point of entry and which draws the viewer's eyes across the entirety of the canvas. No one section stands out a more important or less interesting than another. That being said, one does see something of a ground line at the bottom of the edge of the painting and a rectangle that evokes a door or a window. Just as the composition seems to expand beyond the edges of the canvas, de Kooning brings the viewer back to a threshold, suggesting a particular place and time, grounding them in the present. Harold Rosenberg commented on the painting, "For all the protracted agitation that produced it, Excavation was a classical painting, majestic and distant, like a formula wrung out of testing explosives. If, as de Kooning liked to say, the artist function by 'getting into the canvas' and working his way out again, this masterpiece had seen him not only depart but close the door behind him."

18 Happenings in 6 Parts (1959)

Artist: Allan Kaprow (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

In this happening, the public was invited to complete a number of tasks using instructions outlined in a score. Kaprow used music theory with new developments in electronic music, theatre, and dance, all combined within a pioneering structure that demanded participatory involvement. 18 Happenings in 6 Parts was performed at the Reuben Gallery in New York and is one of his earliest and most important Happenings, often cited as a turning point for performance art. Kaprow authorized a reinvention of this piece just a few weeks before his death and it was performed in Munich's Haus der Kunst in November of 2006.

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