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Karen Finley

February 13-14, 2012

Bio

Karen Finley's art transcends the obvious adjectives—"controversial," "provocative"—so often attached to it. She may be most well known for being one of four performance artists whose grants from the National Endowment for the Arts were vetoed in 1990 after condemnation by Senator Jesse Helms over "decency" issues. Despite an unsuccessful lawsuit by the "NEA Four," Finley was awarded a grant the following year.

Finley's story, then, is one of breaking down barriers. Her performance repertoire includes "We Keep Our Victims Ready" and "Shut Up and Love Me," in which she uses chocolate and honey and her own body to protest violence and explore issues of sexuality and love. She won an Obie Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship for 1997's "The American Chestnut." In 2004, she wrote and co-performed a play, George and Martha, satirizing a hypothetical affair between George W. Bush and Martha Stewart. More recently, she has assumed the persona of Liza Minnelli to explore a post-9/11 New York in her cabaret performance "Make Love."

Finley's poem of exclusion, "Black Sheep," was cast in bronze and mounted on New York's Lower East Side, hailing the gays, women, AIDS-afflicted, immigrants and other outcasts it addresses. She created a memorial installation at the concentration camp at Gusen, Austria, to commemorate the murder of Jewish children by the Nazis. She has also written numerous books, including The Reality Shows (2011), a survey of her work of the previous decade.

While Finley's art may not be immediately accessible or translatable, Ben Brantley of The New York Times writes, "there's no denying the genuine rage and pain behind her performance, nor her ability to find voices that reflect those feelings in disturbingly visceral ways."