Freight+Volume is thrilled to join this year’s edition of Art Basel Miami Beach, taking place from
December 6 to 10 at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Karen Finley: Redacted presents a selection of works that the pioneering feminist artist and free speech icon Karen Finley produced in the 1980s and 90s, including rare documentation of the performance piece We Keep Our Victims Ready (1990), whose provocative subject matter earned her the ire of the Republican Senator Jesse Helms, who waged a reprehensible campaign to have her NEA grant rescinded.
The centerpiece of our booth consists of a restaging of Finley’s seminal interactive installation, Go Figure (1997-1998), which includes a traditional figure drawing class, recontextualized in the space of a public-facing art venue. The live figure drawing class, which will be performed each day of the fair, features a nude model on a plinth, Finley in the role of instructor, and drawing stations where visitors will be invited to draw from life. Our restaging of Go Figure commemorates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first public presentation of this previously censored work.
Although all of the works in Karen Finley: Redacted were created in the twentieth century, their cultural relevance has only strengthened with the passage of time. Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis, among the majority of his GOP right-wing fanatics, is currently engaged in a campaign of censorship, which has led to the banning of over one-thousand books from libraries in Florida, as well as to the firing of a school principal in Tallahassee for including Michelangelo’s David in her school’s curriculum. In this context, Finley’s defense of free speech and the artistic uses of nudity throughout the 1980s and 90s remains a beacon of bravery for artists working today. By re-staging excerpts of Go Figure in DeSantis’s Florida, Finley intends to draw connections between that era of censorship and our own.
Finley first installed Go Figure at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1997 in the midst of her protracted eight-year legal battle with the US Government, a battle which culminated in a 1998 Supreme Court case, The National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley. At the time, Finley said of Go Figure, “The piece is designed to show that nudity in the context of art is desexualized.” She created the work in direct response to allegations by Jesse Helms that her previous performances were “obscene” and “pornographic.” The works to which he was referring—including We Keep Our Victims Ready—were not in fact, pornographic but designed to subvert the male gaze and bring attention to issues of violence against women. Nevertheless, Helms’s sensationalized language infected the media discourse surrounding the work, and continues to cast a long shadow over Finley’s reputation both inside and outside the art world. The artist said of Helms, “He eroticized my career, my work, my livelihood.” With Go Figure, Finley offered a playful but powerful response.
Finley had planned to exhibit an expanded version of Go Figure at the Whitney Museum of American Art in December 1998 as part of the exhibition The Great American Nude. However, in what was widely regarded as an act of censorship, the Whitney notoriously canceled the exhibition—including Finley’s installation and related performances—just days after learning of her Supreme Court defeat.
Karen Finley: Redacted includes excerpts from the proposed Whitney Museum version of Go Figure along with two-dimensional works from the LA MOCA iteration—most notably, drawings from her celebrated X-Rated Pooh series, which reimagines the familiar A.A. Milne characters in transgressive, psychosexual situations. In the 1990s, Freight+Volume debuted these drawings at its satellite location, DNA Gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts, along with other significant projects by Finley, such as Naked in Honey and Psychic Portraits. A number of original Pooh drawings are included in Karen Finley: Redacted, alongside a selection of thematically related drawings, paintings, photographs, mixed-media works, and ephemera (books and albums) from the 1980s and 90s, co-curated with the artist.
Karen Finley: Redacted demonstrates the ongoing cultural and political necessity of Finley’s work in these dark times of renewed censorship in Florida and around the world. Despite attempts by governmental and cultural institutions to suppress and censor her work in the past, Finley has always remained steadfast in her commitment to artistic freedom, responding to humorless authoritarianism with incisive, subversive humor. Go Figure and the other works in Redacted capture Finley’s inimitable voice, which Freight+Volume is proud to amplify at a time when that voice is so urgently needed.