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Off the Wall with Karen Finley         


February 17-18, 2001


The Warhol starts the new year not with a whimper, but with a decided bang. As part of the museum’s Off the Wall joint venture with Three Rivers Arts Festival and New York’s Performance Space (P.S.) 122, the first two months feature artists Claude Wampler (January 27), and Karen Finley (February 17 and 18).  Soon after, Will Power (March 10), and John Kelly and David Del Tredici (May 12), grace The Warhol with their unique performance visions.


Finley’s name may be most familiar to the audience of Off the Wall, given the spotlight that she and three other artists (including Tim Miller, who performed to two packed houses at The Warhol last October) received a few years ago.  Karen Finley was dubbed by the media one of the “NEA Four” when her request for a National Endowment for the Arts grant was denied in 1990 after her work was considered “obscene” by committee members.   As a result, she has been both vilified and chastised.  However, she says today from her home in New York, that she was not discouraged either personally or professionally.  Ultimately, she says, it has strengthened her both as a human being and as an artist, recently churning out an even larger amount of work than usual.


She has just completed a new book, A Different Kind of Intimacy, and, as she has been for the past two decades, she performs her uber-unique, hyper-critical, often food-covered and vulgarity-drenched socio-cultural-savvy pieces to rave reviews.  Of a recent P.S. 122 performance of  Finley’s piece “Shut Up and Love Me,” Maura Nguyn Donohue noted in the publication The Dance Insider,  “She slices through tales of a woman overcome by historically female neuroses with a razor-sharp wit and intense self-awareness…she is a relentless force…a demon caught in corporeal glory.  Sharing the same space with her is frightening, exhausting, and exhilarating.”


Finley says her own work is “a Rorschach test for the culture wars,” and explains in her  confident tone, “I do performances, which are not as linear as Hello Dolly, in terms of having a story line. My performances are more associative, more Jungian or Joycean. And I use my body,” she assuages, “but I never humiliate people.”


She calls the piece she will do at The Warhol “a ballet in honey,” explaining, “I kind of take on certain issues. It’s like buying a wonderful table and just going around the room and looking at it from different points of view.” She stresses that this piece doesn’t have a specific cause, "Which I think is probably more like Warhol, because I don’t think that his work was ever, you know—political… But in that way the piece is political, because it’s really just about sex…the message is much more psychological.”


As individualistic on the page as she is on stage, Finley's A Different Kind of Intimacy collects not only her work as an artist, but also her feelings about the work. “It’s a collection of some of my selected writings, my performances, essays, and my installations and visual work,” she says. “It’s also a memoir that weaves the personal journey that my work goes through, and…what this work means on a more intimate level for me, psychologically.  I explore having an 'heroic complex', and it’s fascinating, divulging that information. It’s so personal.”


As Donohue concludes in her "Shut up and Love Me" review, “That  Finley’s work is still considered explicit and shocking is a startling reminder of how far women’s sexual liberation has still not come.”


The Off the Wall series is supported by a grant from The Heinz Endowments.




Tresa’s Excellent Adventure


The Warhol shares ideas with a Brazilian museum of contemporary art


When Houston native Tresa Varner signed on to The Andy Warhol Museum’s education department five years ago, she never anticipated the exquisite travel opportunity that would open before her.


After a rigorous two-year selection process, the American Association of Museums (AAM) picked a Warhol-proposed program as one of only 27 recipients for their 1999—2001 International Partnership Among Museums (IPAM) award. The goal of the award, says Ed Able, President and CEO of AAM’s Washington headquarters, is to “provide U.S. museums with a unique opportunity to establish lasting inter-institutional ties with partner institutions outside this country by developing and conducting joint or complementary projects.”


The Warhol's Varner was then chosen to travel to South America for five weeks to work with the Museu de Arte Contemporanea (MAC) in Niteroi, Brazil. During her visit, she and Luiz Guilherme Vergara, the MAC’s Director of the Division of Art Education, worked with his MAC staff to compare and explore the educational philosophies and practices of the two museums.


 “Pittsburgh and Niteroi have a lot of population similarities,” notes Tresa. “You have international visitors, and you have people coming who are specifically interested in seeing the collection of a contemporary museum. But we’re looking for ways to engage our immediate communities--people who may not have much connection to contemporary art at all.  Our project in Niteroi was to look at ways to engage the casual visitor into looking at and thinking about contemporary art, to find projects that promote interaction between the public and the art collection.”


She and Guilherme, "spent a lot of time exchanging ideas about what we do."  She had arrived in Niteroi at the right time.  “I stepped into the middle of work on an exhibition that Guilherme had curated, From Materials to Internal Differences ….  The exhibition was already up, and they were creating resource materials that would go with the exhibition when it travels.”


Varner also had the opportunity to travel to other cities in Brazil.  "The community outreach programs I was able to visit were inspirational to me, personally and professionally," she says.  One was Projecto Axé in Salvador, Bahia, a program that works with children who live on the street.  Axé has developed an alternative political-pedagogical approach to art education that offers students a safe and caring environment, in which they can work on their civil rights and responsibilities, while giving them access to art and all its forms of expressions.   “For Axé, art is seen as education in and of itself, because no matter where people live or what they do, art stimulates people’s feelings, thoughts and actions, and touches their souls.  I was very lucky to be able to talk to other educators about their program’s strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes we get so caught up in the details and logistics of running youth programs, that we lose the sight of why we are doing this in the first place.”


In the second part of the exchange, Guilherme visits The Warhol to work on similar projects and programs, such as Urban Interview, the city-sponsored program that Tresa runs for Pittsburgh youth-- a magazine styled after Warhol’s own Interview. Guilherme’s visit to The Warhol depends upon when he can arrange his sabbatical at The Universidade Fluminense, where he teaches semiotics and arts administration.  He is likely to arrive in February, or May, 2001.


“We’re really excited about having him come here,” says Tresa, “because he brings an experience from a whole other realm. The collection in Niteroi is all contemporary Brazilian artists, from the 1950’s through to the ‘90’s, and the meat of the collection is  abstract artwork.  So …you could have just this one slash of paint on the wall, one square,” she notes, and this can be even more off-putting to the casual observer than, say, eleven sequential prints of Elvis Presley. “We have it easier with Warhol's art,” she says, “because his work references American popular culture, and people already have some connection to it when they walk into our museum.”


“It was inspiring to see how they’re working with these issues in Niteroi, like engaging the general public in dialogues about works that at first they feel no immediate connection to.  It's as if a wall comes between the public and the piece, and together we have been trying to find new and creative ways to break down the wall."







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