Carolee Schneemann: Within and Beyond the Premises

The most visceral and startling Seattle museum show this fall occupies the big basement gallery at the the Henry. It's not exactly a cave, but this 40-year survey of Carolee Schneemann's work has the raw, sensual intensity of cave art. Born in 1939, the New York avant-gardist started as a painter; by the early '60s, however, her body became both instrument and canvas for her art. Her films from the period show the artist writhing naked on the floor, suspended from a harness, scribbling on the walls. In another, she and a company of half-dressed pagan performers cavort in a cross between modern dance and a Jack Smith movie—plus raw chicken. In still another, screened in its own private theater, she and a boyfriend create a very rustic, handmade porno called Fuses. (It's not exactly titillating, not exactly off-putting, but somewhere in the awkward, authentic middle.) You could call it body art or performance art, and there are traces of her influence from Karen Finley to Matthew Barney. Interior Scroll, her best-known piece of the '70s, has Schneemann remove and unfold a prepared speech from her vagina. You can read that document, too, framed separately from the photos of her 1975 performance. But the art isn't all political; there's a diary component, too, in her early (and good) semi-abstract nude paintings of the late '50s—these are friends and people she's known. The photo series Infinite Kisses mostly documents Schneemann and her beloved cat. A large 1976 collage of notecards and photos suggests a parallel story of feminist art and engagement. "She began to feel better and didn't regret having to resort to witchcraft," reads one card. The show is by turns bold, intimate, confrontational, and tender. BRIAN MILLER

Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Starts: Sept. 28. Continues through Dec. 30, 2011

 
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