Before Karen Finley came to Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center in 1983 to give her first performance in an art space, she had been doing her act for club audiences around New York City and gaining an underground reputation. By the time of her next visit to Hallwalls in 1987, her national reputation was rising rapidly. Then Finley became the center of a controversy involving the cancellation of four National Endowment for the Arts grants by then-NEA Director John Frohnmayer. From then on her public image -- despite the range of topics she addresses in her performance -- was linked with obscenity and censorship. Now Finley is back in town with a special benefit performance for Hallwalls. "A Certain Level of Denial" will be given at Rockwell Hall Performing Arts Center on the Buffalo State College campus Saturday at 8 p.m. From all accounts Finley has lost none of her social fury as she roars through social issues from male-dominated politics to indifference to AIDS. Premiered this summer at Lincoln Center in New York City as part of the Serious Fun Festival, "Denial" has been praised by critics on both coasts as Finley's most accomplished work to date. Not the least intimidated by the current restrictive atmosphere, Finley will perform a kind of reverse striptease, beginning her act nude -- save for a hat and shoes -- and add clothes as she goes along. In conjunction with the performance Finley will execute an installation, "Written in the Sand," at Hallwalls as a memorial to those who have died of AIDS. An opening reception will be held next Friday from 6 p.m. to midnight, with the work remaining on view through Oct. 30.
-- Richard Huntington