Open Access

Shock Treatment: 25th Anniversary Edition

An Evening with Karen Finley

Wednesday, September 16, 2015, 7PM

Free for Montalvo members: Call 408-961-5849 or email Chris Wilcox to RSVP.

VENUE: Historic Villa

Service fees may apply and are non-refundable.
Montalvo donor discounts are offered on select events; donors, please Log In to access special ticket prices.
This event is presented as part of Montalvo Arts Center’s program series, Open Access—your opportunity to connect with Artists Fellows and Guest Artists at the Lucas Artists Program. This program is designed to offer audiences a behind the scenes view into how artists generate ideas, as well as showcase works in process and fully realized new work. Open Access offerings include conversations, performances, screenings, and culinary events. It also has a virtual presence as an online blog and archive. Find out more at

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"I believe Karen Finley's un-careful rage was threatening because it is filled with grief, humor, and a profound passion for this life. Rereading it, I feel refreshed, as if I’ve been self-policing for years by tolerating boring, stupid things and now I’m free again. Thank you, Karen."— Miranda July, author of The First Bad Man

One of America's most provocative and polarizing performance artists, Karen Finley is a pivotal figure in 20th-century cultural history. One of the so-called “NEA Four” and the named plaintiff in the Supreme Court case National Endowment for the Arts v. Karen Finley, she was a key player in this country’s tumultuous culture wars, when public funding for the arts was under attack. Her debut book Shock Treatment—denounced by some as "obscene and indecent" due to its graphic depictions of sexuality, abuse, and disenfranchisement—continues to shatter taboos and challenge readers.

25 years after its first publication, Shock Treatment has been reissued in expanded format by City Lights publishers. To mark the occasion, Finley joins Lucas Artists Residency Director Kelly Sicat in a reading from Shock Treatment, a meditation on finding her voice as a feminist artist and a reflection on her path 25 years later.


No other artist so vividly captures the drama and fragility of the AIDS era as Finley does in Shock Treatment. Originally published in 1990, Shock Treatment includes Finley’s most provocative and acclaimed performance monologues, essays, and poems, including “The Constant State of Desire,” “We Keep Our Victims Ready,” “It's Only Art,” and “The Black Sheep.” Excoriating misogyny, homophobia, abusive families, consumerism, and state coercion of bodies and minds, Finley holds out hope for a world informed not by hate and fear, but by truth and unconditional love.

The 25th anniversary expanded edition features a new introduction in which Finley reflects on her first publication and the political repercussions of the perceived obscenity in her work. She traces her journey from art school to burlesque gigs to the San Francisco North Beach literary scene. A new poem reminds us of Finley's disarming ability to respond to the era’s most challenging issues with grace and humor.


Karen Finley is an artist, performer, and author. Born in Chicago, she received her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. Working in a variety of mediums such as installation, video, performance, public art, visual art, memorials, music, and literature, she has performed and exhibited internationally. Finley is interested in freedom of expression concerns, visual culture, and art education, and she lectures and gives workshops widely. She is the author of eight books, including Reality Shows, published by the Feminist Press in 2011.  Her recent work includes: Artist Anonymous—a self-help open meeting for those addicted to art; Written in Sand, a performance of her writings on AIDS with music; Open Heart, a Holocaust memorial at Camp Gusen, Austria; Broken Negative, where Finley reconsiders her infamous chocolate performance that brought her to the Supreme Court; and Sext ME if You Can, where Finley creates commissioned portraits inspired by "sexts" received from the public.  A recipient of many awards and grants, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, she is on the faculty of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.