Michèle Didier Gallery, Paris
September 13 – November 9, 2019
By SIMONE SUSANNE KUSSATZ, October 2019
Just to put it right, Carolee Schneemann was actually not Carolee Schneemann. Her last name is a nom de plume, the Philadelphia-born artist chose in order to feel free to fully express her frustration of gender inequity and to protect her family, who had other career expectations of her. Although Ms. Schneemann couldn’t be at the opening night of her new show, because she died in March 2019 due to breast cancer, many came to celebrate her. Gallery manager Claire Porscher said that this was partly due to art historian Émilie Bouvard, who gave a talk about the influence of dreams in some of her works.
Her exhibit at the gallery on Rue Notre-Dame de Nazareth, which Schneemann helped curate before her death, is relatively small. It doesn’t follow a chronological order, but rather uses a thematical approach, presenting some of her most impactful and intimate works. Besides, the exhibit has a bit of an autobiographical feel, because it sheds light on Ms. Schneemann’s personal relationships with James Tenney, Bruce McPherson and Anthony McCall. It also reveals one aspect, that often gets overlooked in her work - her response to world events.
The show opens with her three videos, Meat Joy (1964), Fuses (1967), and Viet Flakes (1965) screened on a wall in the gallery’s front room. The first one presents Schneemann’s performance, in which she and a group of men and women writhe and roll across the floor in their underwear, while rubbing raw fish, chicken, and red paint onto their bodies. In her own words she described the piece as “a celebration of flesh as material” and used it to liberate herself from artistic and social constraints. The second video, one of her most controversial works, presents her having sex with James Tenney, in which she’s not portrayed as a passive and objectified human being, dominated by a man, but as an equal. The film was shot in atypical way, therefore neither through the eyes of a male or female, but her cat as the observer. The third video presents an indictment of the Vietnam War, made of collected Vietnam atrocity images from foreign magazines and newspapers, musically supported by a sound collage by Tenney.
Among the subsequent pieces in the back room is Women’s Travel Plans (1979), which is a colorful silkscreen print in red, blue and yellow presenting five unidentifiable images. Those could be either photographs from one of Schneemann’s performances or an old painting. It also contains a text written by her, which makes a reference to the female Baroque painter, Artemisia Gentileschi, who was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence. The text expresses Schneemann’s outrage about the treatment of Gentileschi, who was not only undervalued by her contemporaries, but raped by an artist colleague of her father.
The show’s remaining room, features Schneemann’s series of collages made in 2002 titled Hallucinating. The most visually dazzling among them is Hallucinating III, kept in various hues of pink and shades of grey interspersed with splashes of yellow and green. It integrates indecipherable words in various ornate fonts and images of September 11, the sight of a bombing, as well as maps of the Middle East and cats behind a fence. Also, the words "Enduring Freedom" appear, referring to the US’ war on terrorism. Thus, Schneemann's exhibit echoes the ongoing gender war, embedded in the wars between the nations. WM
Simone Kussatz is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She has written numerous articles in the field of the arts for international and national magazines published in Germany, the US and UK, China, Iceland, and Switzerland. Kussatz was born in Asperg, Germany. She holds a Master's degree in American Studies, journalism and psychology and received her education from Santa Monica College, UCLA and the Free University of Berlin. In 2004, she produced and hosted three TV-shows under the title "Metamorphosis", where she conducted interviews with Jewish artists in regard to the Holocaust. Kussatz has also worked in theater in the position of stage supervisor and manager in the plays “Talley’s Folly” and “The Immigrant.” She has taught English as a Second Language and served at Xiamen University in China, as well as EC Language Center in London.view all articles from this author