America-born, Berlin-based artist Dorothy Iannone, whose work foregrounded female sexuality and pleasure, has died at 89 following a short illness. Her death was confirmed by her Paris-based gallery, Air de Paris.
“Love and freedom has been at heart of Dorothy Iannone’s work for six decades, with full force until her unexpected death yesterday,” the gallery said in a statement. “We will deeply miss her as an original artist, an intellectual and engaged human being, a most loving, fun, and compassionate friend.”
Iannone worked across a wide variety of media including painting, drawing, collage, video, sculpture, and artist’s books. Often combining text and imagery, her colorful graphics drew inspiration from her personal life as well as Japanese woodcuts, Byzantine mosaics, Egyptian frescos, and American comic books. Iannone, in both her life and work, fought censorship and rejected society’s expectations.
Iannone was born in Boston in 1933 and studied literature at Brandeis University. She married the wealthy investor and painter James Upham and, between 1961 and 1967, the pair travelled throughout Europe and Asia. As a fixture of New York’s downtown art scene, Iannone began making cutout wooden portraits of notable figures such as Jacqueline Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin, which served as forerunners for her later works.
In 1961, U.S. Customs seized Iannone’s copy of Henry Miller’s 1934 sexually explicit novel Tropic of Cancer at a New York airport. Her successful lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union resulted in the end of a 30-year ban on Miller’s work.
Roughly seven years later, Iannone met the artist Dieter Roth while on a trip to Iceland. She left her then-husband to move to Reykjavik with Roth, who she called her muse. During this time in the 1970s, she made some of her best known works, which often depicted scenes from the couple’s sex life.
In 1969, Iannone’s work was censored by the director of the Kunsthalle Bern for the inclusion of genitalia. In response, Roth removed his work from the show and curator Harald Szeemann resigned. Iannone subsequently made the 1970s comic book The Story of Bern (or) Showing Colors about the experience.
Both Iannone and Roth became prominent figures in the Fluxus movement. They remained lovers until 1974 and close friends until Roth’s death in 1998. In 1976, Iannone moved to Berlin on a scholarship, where she lived until her death.
While it took the art world years to catch up to Iannone, her controversial work was critically reassessed in the early 21st century. Her video sculpture I Was Thinking of You (1975), a human-scale box painted with an erotic scene and including a monitor that screened a video of the artist’s face while masturbating, was recreated at the Wrong Gallery at Tate Modern in 2005 and for the 2006 Whitney Biennial.
Iannone was the subject of solo exhibitions at the New Museum in New York in 2009, the Camden Arts Center in London in 2013, and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark earlier this year. Her work can also be found in the collections of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Museum Ludwig in Cologne.