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THE '80s A Special Report : TASTE MAKERS : Presenting the big players and major ideas that--for better or worse--shaped the 1980s. This is Calendar's fifth annual Taste Makers report, expanded this time to cover the last 10 years in the following categories: Show Business Execs, Film Producers, Film Directors and Writers, Stage, TV, Music, Dance, Pop Music, Jazz, Comedy, Radio, Art and Restaurants. : PERFORMANCE ART : KAREN FINLEY

December 24, 1989|JAN BRESLAUER

On the surface, it looks as though the '80s was the decade in which performance art went mainstream. People magazine even said as much, largely because former East Villagers Eric Bogosian, Spalding Grey and Ann Magnuson made it to the silver screen and Laurie Anderson and David Byrne brought art rock to popular vinyl.

And while many solo acts did turn to more traditionally theatrical monologues with slicker, media-friendly production values, not everyone had their eye on prime time. The most influential artists refused to fashion their wares to please the tube.

Karen Finley, 33, is one of the most relentlessly independent and visceral performance artists of her generation. Her furious monologues mix shocking display with pointed commentary, often with family as the subject. Finley's best known for the success de scandale in which she glopped yams onto the nether regions of her anatomy while screeching about abuse, misogyny and the state of art. Less has been said, however, about the compelling statement this confrontational gesture made about the objectification of women and artists.

In her work can be found the touchstones of '80s performance--from fictionalized autobiography to the critique of the art school aesthetic that underwrote performance art during the '70s.

Finley has been an example for artists and viewers because she's never sugar-coated her presentations, even in the wake of publicity. Her work has renewed performance art's mandate to air the dirty cultural laundry, while stylishly pushing the boundaries of acceptable stage behavior.

The Taste Makers project was edited by David Fox, assistant Sunday Calendar editor.

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