‘Bad girls’ of 1960s-1990s american performance: Adrian Piper, Karen Finley, and Carolee Schneemann

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter explores the oeuvres of performing women for whom the given of being a woman was itself the impetus for their work. Dubbed ‘performance art’ in its early years, this work has now entered theatre studies as a staple. A number of the women who began doing such work in the 1960s had attended art school; some later practitioners trained in theatre. Adrian Piper (b. 1948) used the streets, subway, museum galleries, department stores, and private parties as staging areas to protest and challenge stereotypes of gender and race and to interrogate subject/object relations. Karen Finley (b. 1956) articulated succinctly in a 1991 interview the bottom line motivation for the outrage and utter failure of understanding that drives her work: ‘I’ve suffered… just from the fact of being “born a woman”'. She is one of the infamous ‘NEA Four’ who challenged US governmental standards of ‘decency’ regarding arts funding and who garnered notoriety as the ‘chocolate-smeared woman’. Carolee Schneemann (b. 1939) pioneered performances of sexual joy and identity, using her own nude body and techniques rooted in painting, dance, and film. Her 1964 Meat Joy and 1975 Interior Scroll remain icons of feminist performance. Piper and Finley are alive and continue to make art, perform, or write; Carolee Schneemann died in 2019.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of the History of Women on Stage
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages32
ISBN (Electronic)9783030238285
ISBN (Print)9783030238278
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


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