Raw meat, live sex and snakes: the dangerous art of Carolee Schneemann

“Don’t bring your underaged children or grandchildren. Don’t bring your grandmother or other relatives. Don’t bring your out-of-town guests. The current exhibit is awful. I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t art.”

A new book about Carolee Schneemann begins with this warning from a visitor to one of her exhibitions. This review may seem harsh or hysterical, but it’s also fitting: at 76 years old, the artist still divides opinion. For the last 50 years, she has made art that tackles terrorism, war, sex, sensuality and love – “everything from the joyful to the more violent and ferocious aspects of American culture, with the outrage always coming from a very American sense of righteousness”. The book chronicles it all. It is called Unforgivable.

Schneemann’s art has always been raw and personal – and often reviled. I ask if she sees herself as fearless. “No, I think I’m stubborn,” she says. “In the beginning, I had no precedent for being valued. Everything that came from a woman’s experience was considered trivial. I wasn’t sure if my work would shift that paradigm or not, but I had to try.”

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