Whitehot Magazine

Pictures from a Pandemic: Karen Finley

 Karen Finley, Mask 


    I first saw Karen Finley work at the Pyramid Club on New York’s Lower East Side sometime in the early 80s, and several times subsequently. Her performances are raw, indeed incandescent, frequently naked, accompanied by her fiercely chanted commentary and sometimes by symbolic, but highly physical representations of debasement, such as smearing her body with chocolate and penetrating an orifice with a vegetable. These I missed but the performances I did see were brilliant, and about as erotic as a war crime.

Karen Finley, Positive

  Came the 90s, though. It was brought to the attention of Conservatives out to to defenestrate the National Endowment for the Arts, that Finley would sometime perform in publicly-funded institutions. She swiftly became a useful tool, a poster girl for pot shots in the Culture Wars, and, as the “The Chocolate-Smeared Woman”, a national figure. Finley didn’t much care for that fame, whether her demonisation from the right or the hero-worship of the left, but she remains a vibrant performer, writes and makes art. As she has always done. Words were fundamental to those early performances and I quoted her back then, saying “I consider myself more as a visual artist than a theater-based artist.” Covid-19 has brought words and images juicily together. WM

Karen Finley, Anti Bodies

Language of the Pandemic                                                    

In this series, Language of the Pandemic, words are isolated, floating, and disconnected. The ink washes out of its borders, meaning dissolves, unpredictable, unstable and unreliable.  Language is imperative for information, communicating COVID culture. Yet, the visual representation reveals the mysterious, the yet not-known, the vulnerable sequestration seizure of social distancing. Embodied language yearns for repossession and restoration while we begin to venture with anxiety and apprehension. But for now, the circumstance is one of grief, loss and some rebellious, complexity of justified anger, moments of gratitude while we are witnessing a system that was broken all along. - Karen Finley

Follow Finley on IG @the_yam_mam


Show the works are in:

Positive – ink on paper

WWHIVDD? ( What Would an HIV Doula Do?)



David Fierman Gallery, NYC - online

Testing – ink on paper with copper filament

Mask – ink on paper with copper filament

Circus of Books- Blowout



TZ Projects


film of montaged still of Finley’s drawings

onto building – that you can drive by or walk by

MAY 15-20TH, 2020





Anthony Haden-Guest


Anthony Haden-Guest (born 2 February 1937) is a British writer, reporter, cartoonist, art critic, poet, and socialite who lives in New York City and London. He is a frequent contributor to major magazines and has had several books published including TRUE COLORS: The Real Life of the Art World and The Last Party, Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night.




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