The groundbreaking feminist performance artist, painter and filmmaker Carolee Schneemann has died aged 79, her New York gallery PPOW has confirmed.
In a statement, the gallery described her “pioneering work about sexuality, feminism, illness and global politics”, adding that “she will always be remembered for her pioneering steadfastness and certainty of vision”.
Schneemann, whose work was marked by a desire to challenge ideas around sex, gender and the body, enjoyed a 60-year career as an artist. In 2017 she received the Golden Lion lifetime achievement award at the Venice Biennale, with curator Christine Macel describing her as “one of the most important figures in the development of performance and body art”.
One of Schneemann’s most well-known works is Meat Joy, a 1964 film of a performance featuring eight nearly-naked dancers who writhe around with pleasure as animal flesh and other objects are introduced to the melee. Schneemann wrote of the work: “Meat Joy has the character of an erotic rite: excessive, indulgent; a celebration of flesh as material…”
In 1975 she performed Interior Scroll, another much-cited work which saw her stand naked on a table as she slowly extracted a paper scroll from her vagina, reading from it as she went.
Speaking about Interior Scroll in 2016, she explained: “The vagina had always been suppressed, detested, denied religiously… I’ve always been very concerned with the vitality of the vagina and that denial culturally.”
Born in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia in 1939, she attended Bard college in New York, where she was told by her teachers not to follow a career in art because she was “only a girl”. She was suspended from the college after painting nude self-portraits, although she still graduated and on doing so quickly immersed herself in New York’s experimental art scene of the 1960s.
Schneemann took a multidisciplinary approach to her work, although she still thought of herself as first and foremost a painter. Although attracting critical plaudits, institutional recognition only came late on in her career.
In 2015, the Museum der Moderne Salzburg in Austria presented the major retrospective, ‘Kinetic Painting’, which was also shown at New York’s MoMA PS1 in 2017, a few months after receiving her Venice Biennale award.
Talking to the Guardian in 2015, Schneemann said of her boundary-pushing career, and her determination in the face of rejection: “I think I’m stubborn. In the beginning, I had no precedent for being valued. Everything that came from a woman’s experience was considered trivial. I wasn’t sure if my work would shift that paradigm or not, but I had to try.”
In a 2017 interview with the artist Pipilotti Rist, she reiterated the need for self belief as an artist, offering the following advice: “Be stubborn and persist, and trust yourself on what you love. You have to trust what you love.”
1. Carolee Schneemann outside her home on 4 July, 2017. Photo: Klaus Biesenbach; Courtesy: PPOW gallery, New York
2. Carolee Schneemann, Interior Scroll, 1975, gelatin silver print and type on paper on board, 9 1/8 x 17 1/2 in. 23.18 x 44.45 cm. Photo: Anthony McCall; Courtesy: the Estate of Carolee Schneemann, Galerie Lelong & Co., Hales Gallery, and P•P•O•W, New York © Carolee Schneemann
More on a-n.co.uk:
Pictures of… Drawing Room’s Drawing Biennial 2019
A Q&A with… Lauren Gault, artist taking risks with form and understanding
Employment tribunal rules that National Gallery educators were not freelancers