85_AC01_Castro_No Wave Performance Task Force_We Wish Ana Mendieta Was Still Alive
No Wave Performance Task Force We Wish Ana Mendieta Was Still Alive, outside Dia Art Foundation, New York, May 19, 2014.
Photo : © Jillian Steinhauer (first published on Hyperallergic)

The Weeping Wall: The Mendieta Case

Anaïs Castro
On September 8, 1985, nearly thirty years ago, Havana-born artist Ana Mendieta fell from her thirty-fourth-floor apartment in Greenwich Village onto the roof of the adjacent deli, where she met her demise. Her death stirred the art world. She had lived a tumultuous married life with minimalist artist Carl Andre, who, many believed, played a significant role in her tragic death. There were no eyewitnesses to testify to what had happened, and Andre was acquitted of the murder of his wife on grounds of reasonable doubt after a three-year no-jury trial that ended in 1988. Many were shocked by the support that Andre got from people in the art world who were far too invested in his career and who protected him, seemingly without caring whether or not he had committed the murder. To this day, people remain divided; in the view of many, including Mendieta’s friends and family, Andre is accountable for the catastrophic turn of events.1 1 - Sean O’ Hagan, “Ana Mendieta: Death of an Artist Foretold in Blood,” The Guardian, accessed March 26, 2015, www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/sep/22/ana-mendieta-artist-work-foretold-death.

Although Andre’s reception in Europe appears to have remained generally unaffected by Mendieta’s death, his exhibitions in the New York vicinity have been repeatedly hijacked and disrupted by groups of feminists and Mendieta fans. Whether Andre’s contribution to art ought to be ignored or scorned by cultural institutions on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations is a debate that will leave us empty-handed. No one knows what truly happened on that late-summer morning in 1985. What remains unacceptable, however, is yet another example of a woman’s career being defined by the relative success of her husband, of a female artist’s legacy overshadowed by her tragic biography while her husband’s work remains relatively untouched by it. The Mendieta/Andre story follows a pattern of unfairness. This prejudicial paradigm is equally discriminatory if we consider its reverse in the case of Yoko Ono and John Lennon: over thirty years after Lennon’s death, the reception of Ono’s work is still far too often defined by the memory of her deceased husband.

You must have a valid Digital or Premium subscription to access this content

Subscribe to Esse now to read the full text!


Suggested Reading