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Arts Watch: Karen Finley’s “Sext Me if You Can” Comes to the New Museum

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Sext Me If You Can Photo by Travis Chamberlain. Courtesy Karen Finley
Sext Me If You Can Photo by Travis Chamberlain. Courtesy Karen Finley

Karen Finley will ever be remembered for being one of the NEA 4—the infamous group of four solo performance artists caught up in the “culture wars” of the 90s, who came under attack by the US government for their “frank treatment of themes of gender, sexuality, subjugation, and personal trauma.”

Her work? It is, beautifully, all of that and more. Her highly political and emotionally charged performances – she often smears her nude body with food to symbolize the oppression of women, have long provoked controversy and debate. A performance in which she covers herself with chocolate became fodder for the conservatives who labeled her the “Chocolate-Smeared Woman” and called her work “filth.” (Naturally she then turned this into a performance).

The rest is art history. Congress amended the statute governing federal funding for the arts to include considerations of “general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs of the American public.” An embattled case for first amendment rights taken to the Supreme Court by the NEA 4 was lost, and forever changed the way the government grants funding to individual artists.

Thankfully, this only inspired Finley to continue her work. Her last performance piece, “Shut Up and Love Me,” deconstructed the notion of desire and ended with Finley rolling naked in a golden pond of honey. This week, as part of its NEA 4 in Residence series, the New Museum presents Finley’s “Sext Me if You Can,” an interactive performance installation where museum patrons have the opportunity to commission Finley to create paintings inspired by “sexts” she receives from them.

To participate, all it takes is a cellphone (your own) a ten-minute private and anonymous sitting, on-site, during announced performance times, an “erotic exchange with the artist—bound by rules of commerce” and a commissioning fee. (Participants must be at least eighteen years old. No exceptions).

The paintings will be displayed in a temporary studio set up in the museum lobby, May 23–26. At the end of the installation, the participants (who have now become collectors) get to take home the work inspired by their “sext.”

The commissioning fees: $200 for works on paper, up to $500 for a large oval canvas. The experience: Priceless.

“Sext Me if You Can” May 23 – 26 // Presented as part of the New Museum’s NEA 4 in Residence in conjunction with “NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star” and IDEAS CITY // For museum hours and information on how to participate, visit newmuseum.org.

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  1. I have to say, this exhibit just looks way too similar to a show I went to in New York last October. Brooklyn-based artist, Brinn Flagg, did this (and it was a great show too): http://www.chashama.org/event/

    Sorry Karen, but your show is just a little too close for comfort…

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