Carolee Schneemann, a first generation feminist artist, produced artwork for decades. She was one of the pioneers of feminist art in the 1960s. Schneemann was a mixed-media and multidisciplinary artist, whose paintings, videos, photography, and performances introduced the female body as the principal medium in her work. In doing this, Schneemann challenged the definition of art, especially in regards to sexuality and gender.
Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Schneemann won a scholarship to attend Bard College in New York and graduated even after having been suspended for painting nude self-portraits. Attending Columbia University, she met James Tenney who would be her partner for twelve years. With him Schneemann earned her M.F.A. at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and moved to New York where she helped to form the Judson Dance Theater.
One of her most startling and famous works was “Meat Joy,” a 1964 film of a performance piece where eight scantily clad dancers writhed together – along with raw animal parts, rope, brushes, paper, etc. – in a bacchanalian display of pleasure. This visceral performance, like others which would follow, declared an aesthetic war on her male colleagues.
Her 1975 “Interior Scroll” was a performance piece, given at a women’s art festival in East Hampton, where Schneemann unrolled a long, thin scroll from her vagina and read from it. The words she recited were a rebuttal to a male artist who had negatively criticized her work.
Her “Up to and Including Her Limits,” 1973-76, has her strapped naked into a harness hanging from the ceiling. She would stretch out and mark the walls and even the floor with crayon as a counterpoint to the mark-making of male-dominated Abstract Expressionism.
Schneemann stated, “In the 1960s and early ‘70s, every gallery rejected my work.” While she was praised by her peers and younger artists, recognition from institutions came late. She received a retrospective in 2015 from the Museum der Moderne Salzburg which traveled to MoMA PS1 in New York in 2017. Her “Terminal Velocity” traced her transition from making abstract paintings in the 1950s to staging her radical performances in the 1970s.
She was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement from the 2017-18 Venice Biennale.