¿Donde esta Ana Mendieta?
By Nancy Kay Turner
“The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”
The legacy of Cuban born feminist artist Ana Mendieta and that of her husband, iconic minimalist sculptor Carl Andre, are inextricably and tragically entwined. In 1985 Mendieta fell, jumped or was pushed out of the window of her apartment on the 33rd floor and fell to her death. The 911 call that Andre made to report the event was chilling. He said “My wife is an artist and I’m an artist and we had a quarrel about the fact that I was more…exposed to the public than she was. And she went to the bedroom, and I went after her, and she went out the window.” Although Andre was later acquitted after a trial that lasted three years, controversy and feminist protest have dogged him ever since.
Ana Mendieta’s visceral body of work is powerful, mystical and sometimes horrifying as she sought to bring attention to crimes against women such as domestic violence and rape. Mendieta used her own body – often nude, as a proxy, a stand-in for women everywhere. The very idea of death was never very far away as she buried her naked body under a bed of leaves or left her empty silhouette on the ground (eerily reminiscent of police crime scene chalk drawings of victims). She doused herself with blood and wiped it on the white gallery wall as if a religious sacrificial act or made a print with her wet bloodied body. Her work spoke of absence or invisibility and she often just left the imprint of her body in mud or grass, as if she had simply been vaporized. Philip Vergne’s decision to have a Carl Andre respective at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Little Tokyo has opened old wounds and precipitated rousing protests by feminist groups such as Metabolic Studio and The Association of Hysteric Curators whose spokesperson, Mary Anna Pomonis I interviewed about the protests.
In response to my question about the genesis of the protest, Pomonis said, “The Association of Hysteric Curators decided to write an open letter to Phillippe Vergne after a few of us met up with women in other collectives the day of the Andre opening at MOCA Geffen…” then the women decided to show up to talk to MOCA visitors about Ana Mendieta. Pomonis added that “Joy Silverman, who had been a friend of Ana’s and director of LACE (in 1998 LACE had a retrospective of Mendieta’s work) created post cards with Mendieta’s likeness on one side and text on the back (which read): ‘Carl Andre is at MOCA Geffen, Donde esta Ana Mendieta?’ The cards seemed to really trigger the guards who claimed that they had been thrown and were causing damage to Andre’s artwork. We didn’t throw any cards, or even enter the museum, however, cards were left on his sculptures by other women who showed up to the opening and threw them down.”
Pomonis said that it was Lauren Bon of Metabolic Studio who brought the painted banner of silhouettes of women artists (done as an homage) to the Geffen. Artists such as “Alexandra Grant and Iva Gueorguieva, as well as Alma Ruiz former MOCA curator showed up to talk to museum goers and share their feelings about the Andre show.” Pomonis wondered why Vergne had brought the Andre show to Los Angeles since it had been controversial everywhere it had been shown.
I asked about future plans. She said “The Association of Hysteric Curator’s plan going forward is not to necessarily protest, but to demand a survey show of Mendieta’s career in the near future…We are planning performance actions at MOCA to honor Mendieta’s body of work, our focus is on her and not on Andre…In short we plan to educate people about Mendieta’s work as self-appointed museum educators during the run of the exhibition. What we do not plan to do is demand that Andre’s work be taken down or censored. We want only to represent the absence of Ana that his work evokes. We want to honor Ana Mendieta and to give voice to a life and a body of work cut short by domestic violence.”
Carl Andre’s work is clean, industrial, repetitive and architectural while Mendieta’s is spiritual, violent, messy and only beautiful when seen in the haunting color photographs which document her ephemeral works. With the recent events such as the global Women’s marches, the provocative protest at The Whitney Biennial over Dana Schutz’s use of the picture of Emmet Till and ongoing fervent feminist protests (2010, 2014, 2015) at Carl Andre exhibitions, we surely seem to find ourselves in turbulent times reminiscent of the chaotic nineteen-sixties. It reminds me of the oft-quoted maxim of La Rouchefoucald, which is “The more things change, the more they stay the same”.