47 1/2 x 34 1/2 in. (121 x 88 cm.)
This painted photographic print is a unique artifact from Carolee Schneemann’s performance of Water Light / Water Needle in March 1966 at St. Mark’s Church on the Bowery in New York’s East Village.
Inspired by the spatial dimensions of Venice, where the artist had spent time the previous year after her presentation of Meat Joy in Europe, Water Light / Water Needle relied on physical collaboration, with performers balanced on a series of ropes and pulleys mounted across a space covered with material mimicking the water of Venetian canals and with plastic bags overhead resembling clouds.
Attendees at St. Mark’s described the performers’ movements as animal-like, which indicates Schneemann’s careful research in animal communication. Her attention to movement studies and her instructions to the performers reflect the importance Schneemann placed on investigating structural forms that, when reorganized by “shifting the predictable perceptual base,” can alter the very foundations of society.
Water Light / Water Needle V bridges the challenges and promises of including performance in museum collections. It is an artifact from the live event by reproducing a photograph Schneemann selected for its depiction of the ropes that crossed the space—and the space of the visual image—to create a sense of tension that her performers carefully negotiated. Printed in 2014, Schneemann brought her skill and hand as a painter, outlining the photographic traces with vibrant emphasis.
The acquisition of this work in 2017 was made in honor of Director Emerita Kathleen Harleman, who co-organized the 2012 retrospective exhibition Carolee Schneemann: Within and Beyond the Premises with Elizabeth Brown.
An artist profile, containing essays by Harleman and Brown, is available here: Carolee Schneemann Artist Profile
Carolee Schneemann (United States, 1939–2019) trained as a painter at the University of Illinois, where she graduated with an MFA in 1962. Schneemann’s paintings, multidisciplinary collaborative performances, experimental videos, and film installations have made substantial contributions to the history of contemporary art.
Schneemann is particularly well known for being among the first artists to use her body as a medium to question cultural gender biases about artistic and creative identity, challenging dominant interpretations of feminine sexuality and influencing scores of artists in subsequent decades.
Schneemann co-founded Judson Dance Theater, where she and artists and choreographers including Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, Deborah Hay, Fred Herko, Robert Morris, and Robert Rauschenberg innovated the avant-garde scene in downtown New York in the 1960s and 1970s with dance, performances, and exhibitions.
Schneemann’s work is in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Hammer Museum at UCLA, the Detroit Institute of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among many other institutions. The Museum der Moderne in Salzburg organized a career-spanning retrospective in 2015, which traveled to MoMA PS1 in 2017. Schneemann was awarded the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale in 2017, the highest award granted to a living artist.
Author: Amy L. Powell, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, 2019.
Sabine Breitwieser, ed. Carolee Schneemann: Kinetic Painting. Salzburg: Museum der Moderne with Prestel, 2015.
Carolee Schneemann, Up To and Including Her Limits. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1996.
Carolee Schneemann and Brian Wallace, Carolee Schneemann: Within and Beyond the Premises. New Paltz, NY: Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, 2010.
Carolee Schneemann, Carolee Schneemann: Unforgivable. London: Black Dog Publishing Limited, 2015.