Karen Finley

Fotouhi Cramer Gallery / P.S. 122

Karen Finley, force of nature. If you saw her in an ’80s performance club you might have called her that, so powerful was she—but then you’d quickly have felt ridiculous, because it was her particular brilliance to see through any behavioral straitjacket imagined for her, or for women generally, and to dynamite it on the spot. Whether scripted or ad-libbed, spoken in English or in tongues, her monologues were blistering, and because they were part rant (anger is often a motor for Finley, although another is compassion), part nudity, and part sticky mess, her enemies could tar her crazy. They missed, or refused, her ideas, as if thought were incompatible with such deeply felt expulsions—yet those performances had the quality of bringing what might have seemed sociological or theoretical (the way objectification and consumption work on women’s bodies, say) into fraught but clear vision.


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