2010 Lecture Series: Karen Finley

  • Karen Finley

Karen Finley was born in Evanston, IL and is a performance artist whose theatrical pieces and recordings include graphic depictions of sexuality, abuse and disenfranchisement. After receiving the MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, Finley was awarded her first National Endowment for the Arts (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 (Brian Routh, Martin von Haselberg and David Wojnarowicz.) She was notably one of the NEA Four, the performance artists whose grants from the NEA were vetoed in 1990. This action put art at the forefront of American politics.

Finley’s early recordings featured crass monologues over disco beats. 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. She later released a double-disc set, A Certain Level of Denial, and then The Return of the Chocolate-Smeared Woman, her performance rebuttal to the NEA controversy.

Finley’s books include Enough is Enough: Weekly Meditations for Living Dysfunctionally, Living it Up: Humorous Adventures in Hyperdomesticity, Shock Treatment, Pooh Unplugged, and A Different Kind of Intimacy. Her poem “The Black Sheep” is among her best-known works and has been immortalized on a sculpture in New York City.

Karen Finley has also created gallery installations, including decorated walls and inscriptions. Her visual art is represented by Alexander Gray Associates. She is the recipient of both an Obie Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was chosen as Coagula Art Journal’s Artist of the Decade at the end of the 1990s.

Published on April 21st, 2010