Thursday, August 21, 2014

In memory of Ana Mendieta

A few weeks ago, I went to the Dia Beacon with my friend Ellen Martin.

The building is filled with work, primarily sculptures, from the 1960's  - mostly minimalism, and of course, there was the Carl Andre retrospective. 

For those of you unfamiliar with my work, the salvaged wood pieces began in graduate school with a grid on the floor. I was influenced by many artists from the 60's - Michael Heizer, Anges Martin, Richard Serra, Richard Long, Sol LeWitt, as well as Eva Hesse. 

Somewhere along the line, I realized that just because I  was only born in the late 60's, didn't mean I could continue the work of the minimalist -  I needed to find my own way. Unhappy with comments made from a professor during a crit of this work, I found inspiration in my fashion and textile background. After graduate school, I started to constructing these pieces into quilt-like sculptures that  hang vertically. But that sense of abstract minimalism still interests me and I thought I might discover something at the Dia Beacon. 

What I discovered at the Dia Beacon was left me disappointed. Yes, the expanse of seeing each artist's work in clean, open, airy and well light rooms was wonderful. (Expect for the Heizer piece because the security rails are too far away from the negative spaces.) Yes, I loved the long expanses of LeWitt's drawings, Sandback yarn pieces, Kawara's day paintings. But.....

First, only three women are represented at the Dia Beacon - Anges Martin, Louise Lawler and Louise Bourgeois. Secondly, the more disappointing and disturbing was  the fact there was NOTHING - no word, mention, footnote - of  Ana Mendieta. It was as if she the curators erased her from history. 

For those unfamiliar with the Andre and Mendieta story - I refer you to this book - Naked by the Window: The Fatal Marriage of Carl Andre and Ana Mendieta. Briefly, Ana Mendieta died on September 8, 1985 in New York from a fall from her 34th floor apartment in Greenwich Village where she lived with Andre; they were married for only eight months.  Just prior to her death, neighbors heard the couple arguing violently. Andre was tried and acquitted of her murder. During the three-year trial, Andre's lawyer described Mendieta's death as a possible accident or suicide. There was no suicide note and her family said that she was not suicidal. Andre has not had an art exhibit in the United States since then - this Dia Beacon retrospective was his first since her death. 

I don’t know if Andre killed his wife. But what I do know was that Dia Beacon disgraced her, her memory, her work, her family and her admirers  but not including any mention of her.  I felt saddened by the obvious absence of her. I was inspired to write about this because of Mira Schor's blog post - "Still 'Naked by the Window.'"  As well as the protests at the Dia Chelsea - click here for the Hyperallergic article. I didn't expect the Dia Beacon to offer Mendieta an equal placement in the exhibit - but just one mention of her, just one note as to why in nearly 30 years Andre has been missing from the American art scene. 

By excluding Mendieta, the absence of her grows larger; his guilt more looming. It was a shameful act to exclude her name and their marriage from mention. Yes, art can be made by bad people - Caravaggio killed a man, Agostino Tassi raped another artist - Artemisia Gentileschi, Hilter considered himself a painter, but that doesn't mean we can ignore the history of the artist, either. The Dia Beacon should have addressed Carl Andre's past. It was a disappointment to say the least that did not. 

BTW, should any protests find their way to the Dia Beacon in the next two weeks for the anniversary of Ana Mendieta's death- call me. I will happily hold a sign. 

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