- Carolee Schneemann's Aggression for Couples and Exercise for Couples (detail), gelatin-silver prints with hand coloring and collage, 1972.
In the '60s, as small manufacturing ebbed out of Manhattan, a new generation of artists flowed into the factories and industrial spaces, birthing a loft culture that catalyzed a new era of creativity.
Carolee Schneemann was among these Downtown pioneers, a painter-turned-performance artist who used the alchemy of space and watching eyes to create a 3D canvas. In 1964, Schneemann staged a performance that became seminal to her oeuvre. Meat Joy was a mostly nude group performance whose props included raw fish, chickens, sausages, wet paint, plastic, rope, and shredded scrap paper. A sort of human-collage performed in real time, the work took the language of painting and collage into real space as it reveled in a kind of pagan ecstasy.
- A 2016 photo of Carolee Schneemann taken by Lynne Sachs during the filming of Carolee, Barbara & Gunvor.
Works such as Fur Wheel of 1962 and Untitled (Four Fur Cutting Boards) of 1963 also reflect this early desire to push painting into real space. Up to and Including Her Limits (1973-76), makes explicit the relationship of the body to the mark. A kind of performance-installation, the work offers the viewer the artifactual evidence of the artist's body in space; what looks like a large scale abstract-expressionistic drawing constitutes the remains of a performance that is documented in still and moving pictures.
The last five decades of her life were spent in a farmhouse outside New Paltz. In 2011 Schneemann told Chronogram, "All my work comes from this house," citing "personal, elusive, paranormal events," that defined her personal iconography and inspired her art. Schneemann passed away from breast cancer on March 6 at her home, leaving behind a legacy of unapologetic, body-centric art that held taboo in a tight embrace in order to transcend it.