Joanna Frueh Home


A Public Life

I'm a writer, a performance artist, a scholar, and a teacher whose work expands into photo, video, and audio pieces.

People have written about my work as trailblazing, inspiring, seductive, innovative, liberating, and playful.

In 1976 The Feminist Art Journal published my first piece of art criticism, and in 1979 I presented my first performance at the Deson Gallery in Chicago. My interests from then have continued into the present. They are the erotic, the spiritual, the body, the soul, and in ever-clearer articulation over the years they comprise my philosophy of love.

I discussed sexuality and the body long before they became accepted–indeed, fashionable–areas of study in contemporary art and academia. My thinking about those subjects, along with my breaking away from standard forms of academic and critical writing, shape what I've called a critical erotics, which I've developed in my publications and performances. I show in them that a scholar can write both sensually and accessibly and that a woman can be both attractive and smart. My self-portrait photos display the same qualities that characterize my writing: beauty, intellect, and sensuality. I embrace my audience, as readers and as viewers of my performances and photos.

I've published fiction and creative nonfiction as well as having written extensively on contemporary art and women artists. My articles, reviews, and performance texts have appeared in scholarly journals and in numerous art publications. I've also contributed chapters to important books on contemporary women's art.

Besides presenting numerous performances and publishing eight sole-authored books, three co-edited books, and many articles and reviews, I've organized several art exhibitions.

Recognized as a powerful, provocative, and articulate performer, I've presented my pieces at museums, galleries, universities, and conferences in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the UK.

As a professor of art history, contemporary art has been my area of expertise, and I've also taught studio courses in performance art.

Download my resume (243k PDF)

A Poetic Life


I return with every season, rose-fresh and fairy light, though I was born in the winter into a family of Aquarians. Astrology tells us that they are far-seeing—visionary. I thank the roses, stars, and fairies that I arrived in a house of Aquarius.


The lush and lovely north greeted me, the lush and lovely girl, with beauty. My parents were artists and intellectuals. Mom played piano, like an enraptured angel, and she knew English literature like she knew the literature of classical music. Dad had played clarinet in big bands, and when I was a little girl, he took classes at Moholy-Nagy's Institute of Design. Dad especially loved the Abstract Expressionists. His formally cool yet emotionally intimate collages are reminiscent of the works of the artist he admired most, Braque. My sister was a whiz at clarinet and saxophone. I sang, and a voice teacher told me that I have a golden voice.

In my childhood winters, Dad, my sister, and I ice-skated together. We warmed ourselves with the cocoa that he'd made. It filled the thermos that we left in the cabin at the edge of the ice. The smells of chocolate, smoke from the fire, and wood benches cuddled me, like the love of my sister and father. Like the love of my mother, whose lap I laid my head in well into my forties.

Over the Christmas and Chanukah holidays when I was a girl I stayed up late in bed, reading, and woke up early, reading in bed till breakfast. Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, a 1,076-page volume of stories, provided my kind of entertainment. From playfulness to drama and sensuality, they stimulated my imagination.

In second grade I drew Picasso paintings from the art books in my parents' library. I wrote stories. I remember one in third grade about dogs traveling in outer space. I read Greek myths and let the histories of ancient Greece and Rome take me there, to places that felt remembered.

My first starring role in a play came in fourth grade. I myself was a space traveler, though my rocket landed here on Earth in one foreign country after another. Up and away, down to earth.

The earth of the body, the ecstasy of eros. In fifth grade a boy touched one of my breasts–in the classroom! Our innocence embarrassed me, who for a number of years had been masturbating, gazing with love at every bit of my naked self, occasionally dressed in Mom's mink or Persian lamb and in her bright red lipstick. Masturbating in devotion to Aphrodite and to me, the lush and lovely girl.

As a girl, I read about sex. I read many novels, I read stories by de Maupassant, and I read Freud, because an edition of his works sat on a shelf in our library at home. Reading is my heart, like songs and sensuality.

In my teenage summers, I swam with my girlfriends at the beach below my family's house. We listened to the radio, tanned ourselves to gentle browns, and talked about boys.


As I was growing up, Dad gardened. He knew himself through lilacs, roses, pansies, honeysuckles, tulips, petunias, impatiens, daffodils, tiger lilies, hosta, hawthorn trees, and a forest that he let be just that, groomed only now and then.

Gardens are like the heart. When you love them, they bloom.

I flowered into many things.


I call myself a writer, an artist, and a teacher. In truth I am a gardener and a goddess. In all my work I welcome beauty. It is a happy way to Know Thyself, light and sure-footed in the house of Aquarius.

For more information

Download my resume (243k PDF)

Snapshot of Joanna taken by her father Erne Frueh in around 1956 Frances Murray and Joanna Frueh, <em>faerie mermaid II</em>, 2004 Snapshot of Joanna in India, 2008 Portrait of the Sugarhill Four, c. 1964. Clockwise from bottom left: Joanna Frueh, Sharon O'Melia, Deborah Rubin, Suzanne Dienner Russell Dudley and Joanna Frueh, <em>Venus Verticordia 2005<em>, 2004 <em>A Healing</em>, Photo: Frances Murray, 2014