DIVERSITYAmong the more than 75 works by Carolee Schneemann on display are “War Mop” (1983), center.
But there is more to Ms. Schneemann, now 70, than provocative performance art, as is clearly revealed in this exhibition, organized by Brian Wallace, the Dorsky Museum’s curator. On hand are more than 75 works of art spanning 40 years, including paintings, drawings, photographs, installations, sculptures, video projections, films and writings, all explained in a scholarly and informative catalog.
Arranged more or less chronologically, the show begins with the artist’s little-known paintings from the 1950s and ’60s, expressive abstracts in the vein of Robert Rauschenberg, Arshile Gorky and Chaim Soutine. Much of this work has never been shown publicly.
The presence of the paintings is probably enough to warrant a visit to the show — who knew one of the pioneers of performance and conceptual art was a talented abstract painter? (Though it makes sense, given that she was knocking about New York in the early 1960s; she admired Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and for a period even painted a bit like them.)
Several of Ms. Schneemann’s untitled colored pencil drawings of figures and landscapes from the 1960s are gems. They are sensual, fluid and dynamic, sometimes incorporating collage elements, as in “Untitled” (1960), in which hair has been stuck onto the composition as a formal element. For me, this is among the most interesting and original works in the exhibition.
Painting and drawing also informed Ms. Schneemann’s early experiments in sculpture and performance. Take “Up to and Including Her Limits” (1973 to 1976), in which the artist used her naked body, suspended in a harness with crayon in hand or between toes, to doodle on giant paper sheets while swinging to and fro. (Parents beware: This exhibition includes video and photographic documentation of this and other works that contain nudity, including “Interior Scroll” (1975), the artist’s most controversial performance, in which she read a feminist speech off a scroll extracted from her vagina.)
Ms. Schneemann is often referred to as a feminist artist, and indeed a lot of her work deals with women’s issues and the female body. But one of this show’s great revelations is that her subject matter is far more diverse than is often assumed. There are works here dealing with topics including animal cruelty, the Vietnam War and the Sept. 11 attacks.
The strongest are the antiwar protest artworks from the 1960s. Notable among them is her 11-minute 1965 film “Viet-Flakes,” a record of war and its atrocities made up of graphic images from the Vietnam War compiled over five years from magazines and newspapers.
The politics of Ms. Schneemann’s work aren’t subtle, nor are they its only focus; some of the pieces in this show are, instead, extremely personal. “Kitch’s Last Meal” (1973 to 1978/2007), a double-screen projection inspired by the death of a favorite cat, includes intimate details of the artist’s life, while “Jim’s Lungs” (1989), a diptych incorporating drawing, photography and collage, was created in response to news of a friend’s lung cancer diagnosis.
Taken together, the diversity in both form and content so well illustrated in this exhibition form an impressive package, from which Ms. Schneemann emerges as a good deal more than just another programmatic conceptual artist using shock tactics to justify dry ideas.