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Comprehensive retrospective of Carolee Schneemann's work opens in Frankfurt
Foreground: Carolee Schneemann: Music Box Music, 1965. Exhibition view MMK Museum fr Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main, Courtesy Carolee Schneemann, P.P.O.W Gallery, New York, Hales Gallery, London, Galerie Lelong, Paris and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017. Photo: Axel Schneider.

FRANKFURT.- Carolee Schneemann (b. 1939), who in May 2017 was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale, went down in art history as a pioneer of performance art. In cooperation with the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, the MMK Museum fr Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main is now presenting a comprehensive retrospective of the American artist’s work.

Along with other protagonists of the 1960s New York City art world, Schneemann questioned the boundaries of traditional artistic disciplines as well as their overall cultural context. In the process, she arrived at intriguingly new and challenging forms of a visionary, multidisciplinary art. Spanning the entire six-decades of the artist’s career, the exhibition will introduce the genealogy of a painting approach that literally entered into motion and led to a number of significant artistic innovations and breakthroughs. The works on view range from early paintings and assemblages to “kinetic theatre” performances, experimental films, and contemporary installations.

“We are delighted to have the opportunity to present this exhibition to a wide public here at the MMK, because Schneemann’s works on gender roles, sexuality and the use of the body in art exerted a tremendous influence on subsequent generations of artists and are as relevant today as ever”, comments MMK director Prof Dr Susanne Gaensheimer. The Carolee Schneemann survey on the third floor of the MMK 1 will feature many of her well-known works and performances side by side with examples rarely or never shown to date, thus drawing attention to new facets of her artistic contribution. Focussing first on Schneemann’s landscape and portrait paintings of the 1950s that evolved into object-like “painting constructions”, the show will then go on to investigate the role of painting in the artist’s performances, choreographies and experimental film works.

“Based on thorough scholarly examination, this retrospective provides insights of unprecedented breadth and depth into Schneemann’s œuvre in the context of painting”, points out Dr Sabine Breitweiser, curator of the exhibition and director of the Museum der Moderne in Salzburg. The extensive survey will present some 270 works, including loans from the Generali Foundation in Vienna – whose collection is in the holdings of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg in the form of a permanent loan –, the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, the mumok – museum moderner kunst in Vienna and the artist’s collection.

Carolee Schneemann studied painting at Bard College, Columbia University, and the University of Illinois. Early on, she started setting her paintings in motion using simple mechanisms and integrating photographs and everyday objects into her Painting Constructions. The exhibition will feature numerous examples of this genre, in which the artist also pioneered the use of fire as a creative material; some of them have never been on public display. In 1961, Schneemann moved to New York and threw herself into the downtown arts scene, contributing to avant-garde film and dance projects, happenings, and events. Artists such as Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Robert Morris photographed Carolee Schneemann and invited her to participate in their performances. Questioning the traditional role attributed to women in art as beautiful and silent onlookers, in 1962 she ultimately began experimenting with choreography herself. She was the first visual artist to choreograph for the Judson Dance Theater (1962–1964) and appeared as Manet’s Olympia in Robert Morris’s Site (1964). Aiming to take painting beyond the canvas and to be “both image and image-maker”, she created a hybrid performance photography by melding her body into an environment that included Four Fur Cutting Boards (1962) to produce Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions for Camera (1963).

Many of Schneemann's works and texts focus on the female body in its social and historical contexts and explore eroticism and sexual pleasure from a female perspective. Her sexually explicit film Fuses (1965) portrayed herself and her partner, the composer and music theorist James Tenney, in the midst of lovemaking that revealed a mutual intimacy and subverted the tropes of mainstream pornography. Interior Scroll (1975/1977), one of her most renowned works, posits the artist’s body as a wellspring of “interior” knowledge: inch by inch, she pulls a paper scroll from her vagina and reads a monologue from it decrying the sexism and disparagement that women confront in the worlds of art and experimental film. Perhaps her best-known work is the pioneering “kinetic theater” piece Meat Joy (1964), an opulently ecstatic celebration of sexuality, pop music, and flesh. Turning back to cast a critical eye on the painting of the Abstract Expressionists, she developed Up to and Including Her Limits (1973–1977), a performance installation that highlights the artist’s body as a medium of artistic mark-making. Recent works such as the sculpture installation Flange 6rpm (2011–2013) attests to Schneemann’s undiminished creative energy.

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