NEA Four

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Date: 1990

Region: North America

Subject: Sexual/Gender Orientation , Explicit Sexuality Nudity

Medium: Performance Art


Artist: Karen Finley, Tim Miller, John Fleck, and Holly Hughes

Confronting Bodies: National Endowment for the Arts

Dates of Action: 1990

Location: Washington, DC

Description of Artwork: "Vulgar" performance art.

The Incident: Four NEA grants were vetoed by John Frohnmayer in June,1990 singling out four controversial performance artists because of the artists' sexual preferences and political discourses. The grants were vetoed after having been recommended for awards by the NEA peer review panel. Three of the rejected artists are gay and deal with homosexual issues in their work; the fourth, Karen Finley, is an outspoken feminist. The endowment had been under attack since 1989 for funding supposedly "lewd" work. The four rejected artists have continually been singled out by conservatives in the past. The National Campaign for Freedom of Expression along with other groups have rerouted NEA funds and other money to help support and fight for the artists. A spokesperson for the NEA said this would be a direct violation of grant regulations.

Results of Incident: All members of the NEA Four received compensation surpassing their grant amounts in 1993 when courts ruled in support of the four artists, but the NEA controversies continue. The question of content restrictions on use of NEA funds and definitions for "obscenity" are still in court.

Source: Committee For Artists' Rights Archive