As the years go by, I have come to the conclusion that the best thing
one can do in the evening is to stay home and avoid “the scene” at all
costs. Nonetheless, last week, after admonishment from some colleagues
that I was becoming too reclusive, I decided I’d check things out in the
After perusing the papers, It was immediately clear that the music
and film scene was as dismal as ever. That being the case, I figured I’d
check out the burgeoning art scene. No problem. A piece in the L.A.Times
about “feminist performance artist” Karen Finley — whom the writer
likened to “a female Lenny Bruce”– caught my eye. So, last Saturday
night, rather than sitting home with a good book or watching a rerun of
“Beach Blanket Bingo” (I’m still in love with Annette Funicello!), I
found myself inside LACE … a downtown L.A “artists” hangout.
At 7:45, LACE’s upstairs “performance space” was packed to the gills.
It was a typical art house crowd — unattractive, vampirish women and
wimpy looking guys — all doing their level best to act bored. Pasty
white faces, Salvation Army clothes, and stupid haircuts abounded.
Shortly after the appointed show time, Finley — attired in a Fifties
style prom gown — appeared. The crowd, a yackety bunch — immediately
became dead silent. You would have thought the Pope had made an
A jittery, nervous woman of indeterminate age, Finley proceeded to
inform the audience that she’d just taken “three dumps” and was worried
that she hadn’t managed to wipe herself thoroughly.
Finley went on to discuss the difference between pubic hairs and
hairs found in or around other orifices, and other topics of
approximately equivalent interest. Moreover, the woman apparently had
some sort of oral problem, as she continuously spat on the floor while
she went through her opening monologue. As Finley talked, she opened
several cans of fruit, which sat on a nearby table, including a
half-quart can of yams.
Then Finley set down the mike, raised her arms (exposing a pair of
unfashionably hairy armpits) and launched into a spasm of free
association in a Negroesque dialect, which essentially resembled a bad
imitation of several of the Uncle Remus characters. As Finley went
through her shpeil, many of the more ardent feminist types in the
audience made the appropriate clucking sounds.
Soon, Finley revved into high gear, baptizing herself with her
“props” which included beets (which, she said represented menstrual
blood), ice cream (sperm), and liverwurst (your guess is as good as
mine), all of which she smeared all over her face and body. Wiping away
some of the excess goop, Finley then ripped open the front of her dress,
baring a pair of rather unpleasant pendulous breasts, which proceeded to
flop around for the duration of the show.
However, the crowd — tittering like a nervous bunch of teenagers —
was clearly waiting for the Grande Finale.
Soon it came. Finley turned her back to the audience, dropped her
panties, bent over and stuck a bare and heavily cellulite-laden rump out
at the crowd. Then, holding the mike in one hand, she scooped out a
handful of yams, which she proceed to smoosh into her backside.
“‘Sometimes they stay up there, and sometimes they fall out,” Finley
informed the crowd, as she continued. Once her quota of yams had been
inserted (approximately a half a can), Finley delivered a quick “thank
you,” and disappeared thorough a side door (no doubt into the Ladies
As the crowd filtered out into the cool warm L.A. night, many of them
could be heard discussing — in great depth, the more subtle nuances of
the “statement” that Finley had made.
Finley’s gross-out entitled (what else?) “Yams” has turned her into
something of a cause celebre of late. She sold out three shows here, and
recently garnered the cover of the Village Voice. Locally, an article in
the Times quoted Finley as saying that the rason d’etre for her show was
that “it is the artist’s duty to respond to the horrific events in this
society.” The author of the piece, Patrick Goldstein, had the
unmitigated gall to say that Finley’s show evidenced “great gentleness.”
Goldstein also spoke reverently of Finley’s “message.”
Guess I must’ve missed something.
Funny, the only message that I got out of the evening was that people
are insane. That they will buy absolutely anything, including some poor,
demented creature with a terminal anal fixation working out her neuroses
onstage and calling it “art,” if it’s accompanied by a sufficient amount
Moreover I found it highly interesting to observe Finley’s largely
feminist audience championing her act. These are undoubtedly the same
self-righteous shrews who raise the rafters about anything even remotely
exploitative happening to their “sisters.” These are the same bullies
who want to ban “Playboy” and “Penthouse” because they contribute to the
“degradation” of women. I don’t know about you, but I think that a nude
woman sitting in a hot tub is a lot less degrading than some brain-dead
bimbo giving herself a cold yam enema.
On my way home, I pondered the significance of the evening. It was
simple. Either the world really was totally crazy, or else I was. There
was simply no in-between.
So far, I haven’t come up with a firm conclusion. If you’ve got an
opinion, please let me know. In any event, until I get to the bottom of
it, I know one thing for sure.
I’ll be staying home on Saturday evenings.
Editors Note: This piece was published in Goldman’s syndicated
column in 1987. Since then, Finley’s popularity has grown. She continues
to be supported by grants from the National Endowment For The Arts and
other like-minded organizations.