Along with M. Henry Jones and Colette, Neke Carson is the third artist in Anthony Haden-Guest’s important article “Innovative provocations: meet the new art-world rebels.” As a pioneering performance artist in the 1970s, Carson epitomized Haden-Guest’s description of someone “making work that was of its nature hard to buy and sell.” His early performances took the art world as their subject, giving a peculiar new twist to the then-popular formalist conception of “art about art.” Though these performances attracted much notice from publications like the Village Voice, little from them survives beyond the posters that announced them.
Aware of this need for more tangible artworks, Carson devised “rectal realist” paintings, done with a paintbrush inserted in his rectum, as both a provocative statement about the nature of painting and a way to come away from performances with a physical object to exhibit and potentially to sell. His most famous rectal realist work is a 1973 portrait of Andy Warhol, done from life. “The Audience” (above) was painted onstage before an audience. As hard it is to believe, each brushstroke was done using Carson’s peculiar method, as was documented on video by Anton Perich.
Gallery 98’s exhibition of Carson’s early works was one of our most successful, especially because it caught the attention of Rollo Press, who subsequently worked with the artist to publish two books that had previous only existed as mock-ups. Last year saw the appearance of Art Therapy for Conceptual Artists. Now at last comes Works on Art and Rectal Realism. Both books are available at Printed Matter here in New York.
In the afterword to Works on Art and Rectal Realism,art historian Katherine Jánszky Michaelsen, Ph.D., writes, “What sets Carson apart is that he has the unique mind of a thoroughly original thinker.” The new book shows the full range of this unique mind, documenting many of his thoroughly original ’70s works.