American art historian, writer, educator, and performance artist Joanna Frueh, who engaged in a lifelong inquiry into “critical erotics” and the interdependence of pain and beauty, died at her home in Tucson, Arizona, last week. The cause was breast cancer. She was seventy-two years old.

Frueh’s work was concerned with the fetishization of youth and normative ideals of aesthetic ideals. Unapologetic Beauty, her most recent book published with the University of Minnesota Press last year, addressed her experiences with chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, and cancer. Erotic Faculties (University of California Press, 1996) and Hannah Wilke: A Retrospective (University of Missouri Press, 1989) are among her other books.

Frueh was born in Chicago in 1948. After completing her undergraduate degree at Sarah Lawrence College in 1970, she went onto earn her Masters and Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, in 1971 and ’81, respectively. She was a contributor to Artforum in the late 1970s, and in the same decade directed the feminist art cooperative Artemisia Gallery in Chicago. Frueh was professor in the history of art at the University of Nevada, Reno, for more than a decade. She also taught at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Arizona in Tucson, Oberlin College, and the University of Illinois and Columbia College, Chicago. 

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