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Updated: Jan 29, 2023



8 SEPTEMBER 2022 - 8 JANUARY 2023

Images top left to right: Pin Wheel, 1957; Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions for Camera, 1963; Pharaoh’s Daughter, 1966. Bottom left to right: Meat Joy,16–18 November 1964

Judson Dance Theater; More Wrong Things, 2000; Up to and Including Her Limits, 10 June 1976 Studiogalerie, Berlin.


Carolee Schneemann took the second wave feminist mantra, “the personal is political”, to great lengths in her sweeping works of art from painting and installations to participatory art and beyond. Her key subject was herself and to say Schneemann claimed her body as a subject is spot on. “I wanted my actual body to be combined with the work as an integral material” she said. “I do not show my naked body! I am being my body.” The Barbican’s chronological exhibition on Carolee Schneemann’s portfolio of art is extensive and flags an artist who continues to shock, inspire, and resonate.

Schneemann started out in in the 1950s Contemporary Abstract Expressionism movement in New York City, a male dominated scene she dubbed the “Art Stud Club”. Her early work is undeniably abstract, but she hints at what’s to come by extending materials outside the canvas and introducing movement. She painted Pin Wheel in 1957 mounting an abstract painting on a spinning wheel as she painted.

By the early 1960s Schneemann was enmeshed in a new scene following Allan Kaprow’s work with ‘happening’, participatory, performance art and throwing parties with the likes of Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg. Most notably her paintings began to incorporate materials like tapes and ropes which spilled from the canvas. One Window Is Clear - Notes to Lou Andreas-Salome is an example and a tribute to the great psychoanalyst.

Her work became more 3D when she was introduced to Joseph Cornell and experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage. Her box “constructions” are like experimental dolls houses, Sea Level 1965.

Eventually she moved into her more infamous work - self photography - contesting her destiny as wife and muse. Her work Eye Body: 36 Transfomative Actions for Camera, 1963 heralded this change. Schneemann photographs herself as an Eve like muse, muddied and messy with snakes and shards of glass.

Her art turned to performance when she founded Judson Dance Theatre and what she called her ‘kenetic’ painting became ‘kenetic’ theatre. She collaborated with Yvonne Rainer, John Cage and Merce Cunningham scattering the stage with broken glass, piles of torn newspapers and metal objects. With the dancers she created crazed, Dionysian scenes. From this she choreographed “Meat Joy” an improvisational dance performance initiated by Schneemann using raw fish or chicken and buckets of red paint to cover young, untrained dancers.

Becoming more and more immersed in self-images, Schneemann filmed her sexual intimacy with her partner Tenney. The erotic documentation Fuses 1964-67 is shot in grainy 16mm black and white and is surprisingly frank.

There’s certainly the exhibitionist in Carolee Schneemann. She continued to take self-photos and films, her stereotypical perfect female form juxtaposed in contorted and shocking poses. Her close-up photos in the 1970s of her vulva and anus are said to result from challenging female sexual exclusion. Blood Work Diary, 1972 - auto prints of her menstrual blood - must’ve been ground-breaking if not downright shocking. There is a violent undertone in Schneeman’s art which surfaced as she engaged with anti-Vietnam war protests. In her later years she continued this theme in works like More Wrong Things, 2000. The exhibition concludes with Schneemann’s experience of lymphoma, creating art and interpreting herself to the end.

#caroleeschneemann @barbicancentre

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