Martha Wilson Interview on Performance Art (1995)
  • TItle: Martha Wilson Interview on Performance Art
  • Date: 28 Apr 1995
  • Location: Franklin Furnace, New York, NY, USA
  • Interviewee: Martha Wilson
  • Duration: 00:31:35
  • Language: English

Martha Wilson Interview on Performance Art (1995)

Martha Wilson discusses the history of Franklin Furnace as an avant-garde venue that presented radical performance art during the culture wars in the United States. Wilson situates performance art as a confrontational form that emerged from Futurism, Constructivism, and Dadaism in the early 20th century. She describes the radical nature of performance art as a medium that transmits conceptual thinking through live actions, as evidenced in the work of artists Karen Finley, Annie Sprinkle, and Scarlet O. Wilson explains how the political subject matter embodied by these artists—feminism, pornography, and sexuality—impacted Franklin Furnace as an arts organization in the conservative climate of the culture wars. She notes the consistent attacks by religious right groups on Franklin Furnace that led to defunding from the National Endowment for the Arts, as the organization was accused of presenting obscene art with government funds. Despite the upheaval, Wilson, in true avant-garde fashion, insisted “Until they cart me away in a straightjacket, I am going to continue to present performance art.” While an advocate for government funding, Wilson is critical of the regulation of political content in the arts—a phenomenon that did not manifest in other sectors of public funding at the time.

Martha Wilson is a pioneering gallery director and feminist artist who creates innovative photographic and video works that explore her female subjectivity. Wilson founded Franklin Furnace in 1976, an artist-run space that champions the exploration, promotion, and preservation of artist books, temporary installation, performance art, as well as online works. She has been described by The New York Times critic Holland Cotter as one of “the half-dozen most important people for art in downtown Manhattan in the 1970s.” Wilson has received fellowships for performance art from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts; Bessie and Obie awards for commitment to artists’ freedom of expression; a Yoko Ono Lennon Courage Award for the Arts; a Richard Massey Foundation-White Box Arts and Humanities Award; and an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University.