Karen Finley Preserve Freedom to Express Yourself (1990)
Detail of event program courtesy of Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc.

Franklin Furnace Fights for First Amendment Rights (1990)

In Franklin Furnace Fights for First Amendment Rights (1990), the artist community addressed the political climate of the arts during the culture wars in the United States. This event was prompted by the recent closure of Franklin Furnace by the New York Fire Department. The fire department believed that Franklin Furnace was an “illegal social club” despite their reputation as a preeminent venue for avant-garde art. Subsequently, Franklin Furnace was demonized by Republican Senator Jesse Helms for exhibiting Karen Finley’s A Woman’s Life Isn’t Worth Much (1990)—an installation that examined rape, incest, and abortion through texts, drawings, and paintings. The art organization was audited by the Internal Revenue Service, defunded by the National Endowment for the Arts, and attacked by the religious right. In the spirit of the avant-garde, Franklin Furnace confronted such opposition by continuing to present artists who were seen as transgressors of the body politic. The presenters as part of this event addressed the heightened censorship of queer, erotic, and feminist art through performative interventions on stage. Franklin Furnace Fights for First Amendment Rights included presentations by Spalding Gray, Mary Schmidt Campbell, Eric Bogosian, Cee Brown, Allen Ginsberg, Diane Torr, Paul McMahon, Nancy Spero, Leon Golub, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Annie Sprinkle, Frank Maya, Lynne Tillman, and Karen Finley.