Articles

Artists Protest Carl Andre Retrospective with Blood Outside of Dia:Chelsea

by Jillian Steinhauer on May 20, 2014

The No Wave Performance Task Force left blood and guts in front of the Dia Art Foundation in honor of the late Ana Mendieta. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

The No Wave Performance Task Force left blood and guts in front of the Dia Art Foundation in honor of the late Ana Mendieta. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Of the many things one might expect to see in the industrial chic gallery neighborhood of Chelsea on a Monday evening, chicken blood and guts splayed on the sidewalk is not one of them. But last night, in honor of the memory of the late artist Ana Mendieta and in protest of the Dia Art Foundation’s current retrospective of her husband, Carl Andre, artist Christen Clifford and the feminist No Wave Performance Task Force offered up deep red chicken blood and dark, chunky guts.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Mendieta and Andre, a brief introduction is in order: The couple met in 1979 and married six years later, by which time both were making and selling art successfully. Andre had already been a fixture on the male-dominated Minimalist scene for years, while Mendieta and her more ephemeral, performance-based work — one of her earliest pieces involved her standing naked while holding a decapitated chicken and letting its blood splatter over her — were gaining art-world traction. On the night of September 8, 1985, the pair had an argument in their apartment on the 34th floor of a building in Greenwich Village. In the course of the argument Mendieta “went out of the window,” in Andre’s words, and fell to her death. There were no eyewitnesses. No photos were taken of the body. Andre was charged with Mendieta’s murder and acquitted three years later.

Christen Clifford (left) and Karen Malpede (right) writing on a jumpsuit (click to enlarge)

Christen Clifford (left) and Karen Malpede (right) writing on a jumpsuit (click to enlarge)

“I think she was thrown out of the window,” playwright Karen Malpede, who was living and working in New York at the time of Mendieta’s death, told me last night. “I think every woman felt that. It felt like every woman artist in New York was getting a warning: this is what you get if you become too good.” Malpede attended the Dia protest with her husband, George Bartenieff; the two of them are co-artistic directors of the Theater Three Collaborative.

“It was such a summing up of the incredibly ego-driven art scene of the time,” Bartenieff added. “You wouldn’t believe it — like Hollywood stars fighting each other. It was all inflated and had nothing to do with art.”

Nearly 30 years later, Andre is the subject of a massive retrospective at Dia:Beacon, which the institution callsthe first museum survey of Andre’s entire oeuvre.” The Dia Art Foundation had planned its only New York City event related to the show for last night, a lecture by the artist Leslie Hewitt on Andre’s work. But “due to an immediate medical condition,” the lecture was rescheduled. When protesters arrived at the Dia building in Chelsea around 5:30pm, they encountered a sign on the door explaining the postponement and a security guard sitting in a white SUV.

The banner

The banner

As people arrived, Clifford handed white Tyvek jumpsuits for them to wear; everyone was encouraged to write “I wish Ana Mendieta was still alive,” or some variation thereof, on the suits before donning them. “I’m not making a protest saying he’s a fucking murderer, even though that’s what I believe,” Clifford said, explaining the wording choice. “I want to put positive things in the world.” She also unrolled and taped to the ground in front of Dia a paper banner with the same phrase.

Karen Malpede reading from Christa Wolf's 'Cassandra'

Karen Malpede reading from Christa Wolf’s ‘Cassandra’

To start things off, Malpede read to the assembled crowd of not quite 20 — among them a handful of people close to the Mendieta family — a passage from Christa Wolf’s novel Cassandra. In it, the Greek hero Achilles violently kills a woman, and Wolf writes, “The men, weak, whipped up into victors, need us as victims in order not to stop feeling all together. Where is that leading?” As Malpede was winding down, Clifford, cooly holding a cigarette in one hand, stabbed and cut holes in a shopping bag containing the chicken blood and guts. She slowly trickled the blood along the edge of the banner on the pavement, before dumping the rest of the remains down in front of Dia’s doors. The stench was overwhelming, the odor of fresh death carried by the wind. Then she read a short selection from the book Who Is Ana Mendieta?

Clifford spilling blood

Clifford spilling blood

By the time Clifford finished, the police had arrived, called by Dia. The group stood in silence staring at the banner and the remains, a simple but powerful makeshift memorial. The police respected that silence for a while, standing back to observe what was happening. Eventually one of them asked who the head of the group was, to which Malpede responded, “There is no head.” The officers accepted the answer and stepped over the blood, into Dia; the protesters walked away.

“For me what’s interesting is not the fact that he did or didn’t do it, but that the art world was so interested in protecting him whether or not he did it,” Mohammad Salemy, a Vancouver-and New York–based independent curator, told me. “They intervened in the justice system. You can’t trust the outcome of the trial because there were powerful forces influencing it.”

Police officers entering Dia (click to enlarge)

Police officers entering Dia (click to enlarge)

The protest action was important, Salemy continued, because it helps illuminate “the invisible part of the iceberg … the ugliness in the art world. When people talk about Carl Andre’s retrospective at Dia, they’ll say there was a protest. You know how people say ‘let’s make history’? Let’s make art history.”

I returned to the Dia’s doors probably half an hour after the group had left. The banner was gone, and the guts had been scraped into a neat pile with a phone book by a horrified woman who works at the foundation. Some of the blood was beginning to dry, but it left splotches and stains on the pavement, which seemed like a fitting tribute to Mendieta, an artist so interested in natural materials and traces. The smell was still relentless, too, and it followed me down the block as I made my way to Tenth Avenue.

Christen Clifford spilling blood

Christen Clifford spilling blood

Clifford reading from 'Who Is Ana Mendieta?'

Clifford reading from ‘Who Is Ana Mendieta?’

The scene, including police car on left and security SUV on right

The scene, including police car on left and security SUV on right

George Bartanieff

George Bartenieff

The protesters walking away

The protesters walking away

Women from Dia attempting to clean up the mess

Workers from Dia attempting to clean up the mess

The No Wave Performance Task Force protest “We Wish Ana Mendieta Was Still Alive” took place on May 19, 5:30pm, outside the Dia Art Foundation (535 West 22nd Street, Chelsea, Manhattan). A video of it can be found here.

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  • Dale Hoyt

    Cleaning up the blood with a phone book. thats a better performance…

  • O.

    This just seems pointless.

  • Chadwick Crawford

    While I am sure that the establishment art movement is suitably mortified by the crushing symbolism, I do wonder if they thought at all about the poor hourly employees who are going to have to clean it up? Perhaps next time a tried-and-true brick through the window might be essayed?

  • Gemma Seymour

    So, who suffered, in the end? The women who had to clean up that disgusting, hazardous mess. How very much like #WhiteFeminism to make other people clean up after them. Not a single PoC in any of those pictures, is there? Dear White Feminists: Stop appropriating the struggles and tragedies and deaths of women of color for your politics.

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      Actually, there were many WoC at the event, including multiple Latina women and African-American women (some of whom are pictured). And I would argue that the fault/responsibility of having the two women clean up the mess falls on Dia, not the protesters. Why did they send out those two assistants/interns/whoever they were to do it, rather than professionals?

      • Julia

        Yeah, I’m kind of dying to know who the people cleaning up are. If I were an intern, that would’ve been my cue to just walk away.

      • Lynn

        The two women pictured are full-time, permanent Dia staff members who, I’m sure, chose for themselves to clean everything up rather than delegating the task to interns/assistants/custodial staff.

        • Jillian Steinhauer

          That’s excellent. I had heard or read somewhere that they were interns, but I think someone probably made that up. Thank you for clarifying.

      • bgbrooklyn

        Thanks for your reply. There’s a woman of color clearly present in one of the photos. It’s just shocking that Gemma would make this about race. Wow.

    • Huckleberry

      looks like the women that cleaned that up were white so its all good… But yes, no white women should ever acknowledge something that has happened to a woman of color….

    • Oliver

      Ana Mendieta was from Cuba, which gives her a Spanish background, and Spanish people are white. But also, what a snippy useless response to the story.

    • squid muffin

      Gemma, I think you’re being a dick. That is all.

    • DelC

      Wow, how did you get racism out of a protest against spousal homicide? Do people of color cut off chicken heads a lot? You make no sense at all.

    • DoucheBagKilluh

      I would like to meet you.

    • DoucheBagKilluh

      Why make this about race?

  • Chris

    More nobodies on the make.

  • Jori Sackin

    “For me what’s interesting is not the fact that he did or didn’t do it…”

    Hmmm, kind of important since you either are or are not accusing someone of murder. That so little attention is paid to the actual argument of whether there is any evidence of murder seems like something that needs to be addressed.

    • Jori Sackin

      “I think she was thrown out of the window,” theater director Karen Malpede, who was living and working in New York at the time of Mendieta’s death, told me last night. “I think every woman felt that. It felt like every woman artist in New York was getting a warning: this is what you get if you become too good.”

      It is this paragraph that turns Mendieta from an actual woman, into a symbol for women. As a symbol for women, it doesn’t really matter what happened to her, because the symbol resonates so strongly. The subtext here seems to be, “Who cares if she accidentally fell out or was pushed out, because the story validates a certain emotional state that some people were feeling at the time.”

      As an actual woman, she experienced a non-symbolic actual death, that deserves at least a glance. The fact that the only supporting arguments for calling someone a murderer is that someone “thinks” something, seems to be bordering on irresponsibility.

      • Jillian Steinhauer

        I agree with you, that she and her death have become a symbol more than just a tragic human event, and in some ways, that is problematic. But on the other hand, that is how humans work, no? That’s how process we things—we imbue them with meaning, we create symbols. And the fact that her death seemed symbolic from, apparently, the moment it happened and continues to is incredibly revealing, I think. Also, I do think the protest action was actually quite personal in the way it resonated with her work specifically.

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      From what I understand, although I have not read enough on this, the issue is the lack of evidence. There were no witnesses, no photographs were taken of the body at all…there’s just a lack of information. And the trial is over, and there were no jurors. So at this point, I actually do think—not that it doesn’t matter if he did it, but you have to accept that we’ll just never know.

      • Jori Sackin

        Jillian,

        I appreciate your response. While it is interesting that we create symbols and meaning from a event that we know little about, I think it more illuminates the universal human bias to shape the unknown into something that fits into the story we want to tell, sometimes regardless of its relation to the truth.

        While I can understand that this symbol might’ve been important, and in a strange way, empowering to women artists during that time, I don’t think that justifies it. Here we have a marginalized group (women artists) that gained a story that solidifies their oppression into a narrative that symbolically expresses their helplessness at their situation, but in order for this story to work, Carl Andre must be a murder.

        How do we balance the social needs of a marginalized group, with the personal needs of protecting a possibly innocent single human being? Don’t expect an answer, but something to think about.

        • Jillian Steinhauer

          Jori, I think you might enjoy this: http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/tracing-ana/

          • Jori Sackin

            Yeah, I liked a lot of parts of that article. Thanks for sharing. To me though, this is the defining, most interesting sentence:

            “As viewers and admirers of Mendieta’s work and life, don’t we have a right to our own versions?”

            I believe we all have the right to our own subjective interpretations of her life, just like we all have the right to our own subjective interpretations of her work. But what is the difference between the two?

            It seems in creating our own meaning of her work, we are bound by nothing. The possibility for meanings is limitless. But in interpreting her life, and notably, her death, we do seem to be limited by the facts of the events, however few there may be.

            That being said, it seems reasonable for people to validate their feelings about an event, by projecting their own ending, their own story into it. This is how we interpret the world. What for me becomes problematic is when we go from “this is my projection of what I think happened” to “this is what I know happened”. It is the certainty of the claims that bothers me the most.

            That both Burroughs and Carle Andre changed their interpretation of the death again and again, is not so much a sign of their guilt, but a insight into the constant re-construction of meaning that all of us go through. You might expect the meaning of someone who witnessed the actual death to remain constant, but of course, it does not. While this constant reinterpretation can create wonderful creative imaginings, it does lead us away from the certainty of “knowing” that would be so satisfying in cases like this.

      • Den Hickey

        Well, if we will just never know… imagine for just a moment if he didn’t actually kill her. If she did commit suicide.. something hardly unknown among artists.

        • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

          I think we should all read the book, which friends tell me raises a lot of serious questions.

  • EvieIshmene

    An intern could have called a service for clean up if there aren’t any custodians on staff. And, this is an open case homicide and effects everybody, not just women of colour.

  • Stephen Aman

    Hmmmm. Woman who cuts chicken’s head off and covers herself in its blood as performance falls out of 30th story window and dies. Husband is acquitted and eventually acquires world fame as sculptor. Thirty years later self righteous activists spill a pile of gore on the sidewalk in front of husbands exhibition as a symbolic gesture. Anonymous third party has to clean up the mess. Message that I take from this:

    • DelC

      The place showing his art (after what he’s done to his wife) are the people who have to clean it up. What is your problem?

      • Stephen Aman

        No Wave Performance task force has assumed to know the truth of what happened regarding a situation of which only two people knew the truth. Artists are often passionate personalities. Both parties were drunk that night. Maybe he killed her. Maybe she jumped. Maybe it was an accident. For the most part the only evidence in the case seems to be conjecture. The man was acquitted and has since lived as a recluse in the same apartment. I doubt if this political “statement” is going to make whatever guilt he carries more of a burden, nor will it lessen his reputation; no more so than William Burroughs’ reputation was lessened by killing his wife. If they wanted to honor the memory of Ana Mendieta they could have reenacted some of her performance works instead of making such a sensationalist and self-righteous gesture. I feel badly for all parties personally affected by the tragedy of Mendieta’s death but I don’t feel that her death should be turned into a symbol of the repressive and male-dominated nature of the art world. They should be concentrating on how she lived rather than how she died.

        • DelC

          How she lived was to pour chicken blood as an artistic statement. How she died was to fall from a window while fighting with a drunk husband. How men dominate the art world in general is evidenced by each and every case, such as the one protested here. Duh.

      • Den Hickey

        After he did WHAT to his wife???? I mean, if you have some proof that no one else including the courts saw, we would love to hear about it. … or do you also just have supposition and guesswork to fit your own preconceived narrative?

        • DelC

          How are you not aware that the police have to follow laws of evidence meaning even when we KNOW a murder happened we cannot prosecute without evidence? That’s NOT the same thing as acquittal. (shaking my head)

          • DelC

            Besides, if you have proof he was innocent, now is the time to share. Was he remorseful? Has he been in obvious mourning ever since? Do tell us how it is that so many believe he pushed her? How could I have a preconceived narrative? I have never heard this story before. I have no experience with pushing people out of a window or killing my spouse.

          • Den Hickey

            Well, since you KNOW he did it without any evidence, perhaps you can tell us if he was remorseful or not.. despite being “remourseful” kinda implies he necessarily did something wrong. Has he been in mourning ever since? Uh, who the fuck are you to A. base his guilt or innocence on what you think his mourning should be like and how long it should last and B. even begin to try to dictate what his mourning should be like or how long it should last?

            “I have never heard this story before.”

            And yet you KNOW what happened… without any evidence.

            “I have no experience with pushing people out of a window or killing my spouse.”

            And for all you know, neither does Carl Andre.

          • Den Hickey

            Ah, so you KNOW what happened… without any evidence. Well, that sorta begs the question… did you know either Andre or Mendieta.. or are you just making assumptions after the fact based on your own admitted lack of evidence?

  • Bagaboo

    Killing a chicken isn’t “art”. Sorry. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. You think that living beings are so disposable? So were you.

    • DelC

      Nobody said killing a chicken is art. How did you miss the part where a woman was pushed out a window???

      • Bagaboo

        Did you actually read the article, or are you just swept up by the sentiment?

      • Bagaboo

        Shall I clarify it for you? The lady who died used a dead chicken in her art, just like it says in this article, “one of her earliest pieces involved her standing naked while holding a decapitated chicken and letting its blood splatter over her”. Also, there is no proof that she was pushed out of a window. Just a few words down from where I took this first quote, it says that there were no eye witnesses, that her boyfriend was charged with murder, but acquitted. Who’s to say that she didn’t lose control of her emotions and jump? Anyway, we don’t know whether she was killed or not. Ever heard of “innocent until proven guilty”? How did you miss the entire second paragraph of this article?

        • jbani725

          There is plenty of proof, but most of it is circumstantial which is why her husband wasn’t convicted (although he never went in front of a jury, he asked for it to be decided by a judge instead). There are countless numbers of their neighbors who heard her screaming “no” repeatedly directly before she fell, there were defensive scratch marks all over Andre’s face and arms, and Mendieta had no absolutely no reason to commit suicide. Not only was she incredibly happy with an art career that was taking off and a show about to open at the New Museum, but she was terrified of heights. The entire case has been called “the OJ Simpson of the art world,” where everyone basically knows that he did it but they can’t make it stick for a conviction.
          ALSO, maybe this makes me a bad vegetarian, but I don’t think that killed a chicken means you deserve to be thrown out of a window.

          • Bagaboo

            Just going by what this article says, I saw no good reason to protest someone’s exhibit. I don’t know about this case, but I don’t like calling people murderers if it hasn’t been proven so. Anyway, I don’t think it’s a good way to protest violence with violence. Spreading chicken guts and bloods on the road is pretty disgusting and it also shows disrespect to the animals. Of course killing a chicken shouldn’t mean that someone should die, but there’s nothing artistic about her “piece” with the chicken. It’s disgusting and it reveals something violent and negative about her mind. It’s not overly surprising that she died in a violent way, whether it was by someone else or by herself. Sad, but this protest was inappropriate. It’s also ironic that they’re talking about the inflated egos of the time, but these protestors have pretty big egos, wanting to go down in history for what they did, instead of actually caring about animals or how their disgusting act could effect kids or whoever else was walking down the street that day.

          • Den Hickey

            “There is plenty of proof, but most of it is circumstantial”

            You mean they could prove everything.. except that he actually did anything illegal.

      • Den Hickey

        You mean the part that wasn’t there.. because there is no proof that was what happened?

    • jbani725

      They didn’t kill a chicken. They stabbed a bag of just blood and guts.

      • Bagaboo

        I’m not talking about “they”, I’m talking about “she”, but since you’re at it, yes, “they” obviously supported the killing of chickens by using dead chickens in their protest.

        • sirdavies

          i somehow doubt everybody standing against this is vegan

  • Chicken_Fingers

    Folks, I’m gonna be at the corner of 10th / 25th at 5:45pm tomorrow and shit into my hat. Who do I send the press release to. I also want a link to my artist website. Thnx.

    • guest

      Great! I’ll be there because shitting in your hat, chicken fingers, definitely makes you relevant

      • Chicken_Fingers

        The piece is called “Vowel Movement: The End of Phallogocentrism” and I intend it to be both relevant and timeless at the same time.

        See you there!

        • guest

          Only if I get to crown you with your hat. That will make me relavant too, and don’t be taking all the credit bitch because I know how dicks love to hog the spotlight.

  • http://wwwmpetrides.blogspot.com maria petrides

    It’s not “interesting” enough to know whether Carl Andre murdered Ana Mendieta??? but it’s exhilarating to know that the art market would protect him and the value of his work because ‘the professional is not political’!

  • Dana

    Privileged white people in major urban metropolises can do the most idiotic things and find some way for it to be seen as anything other than. Step outside the culture bubbles of “art”, of New York, and what have you got? A group of fully grown adults, throwing chicken guts on the sidewalk, and leaving it for somebody else to clean up. Bravo you revolutionaries!

    • DelC

      Yeah, killing your wife is no big deal to underprivileged white people in major urban metros. Uh huh…

      • Dana

        A group of fully grown adults, throwing chicken guts on the sidewalk, and leaving it for somebody else to clean up. A group of fully grown adults, throwing chicken guts on the sidewalk, and leaving it for somebody else to clean up. A group of fully grown adults, throwing chicken guts on the sidewalk, and leaving it for somebody else to clean up.

        • DelC

          Funny, you sound like a child, “Mom! Mom! Ma! Mummy! Mum! Mama!”

          As if children would protest an artist who killed his wife? Did you not think that is the POINT to make the gallery clean up the mess? Did you really miss the point entirely?

          • Dana

            It is not that the point was lost on me, it is that the action itself does not make the point that the protesters imagine it to in their self-congratulatory delusion.

            As you’ve said, they intended “to make the gallery clean up the mess”. Well, an non living architectural space cannot clean up a mess my friend. Other human beings (Dia employees who surely do not have the high power to vote on projects such as the Carl Andre retrospective) are left with that task.

            I should add that I was actually present at the end of the protest. Few people were there, most of them non-art related, just casual passersby who looked on in horror as most normal people would if you saw a group of fully grown adults pouring animal parts on the sidewalk.

          • DelC

            It is true that the one person who might be responsible for the decision will likely foist the task off on another poor soul. I would not enjoy the job. But while the poor soul will survive and not feel personally attacked by it, and even get paid for it, the gallery’s bad reputation for supporting disreputable people will be achieved.

            That is what the protesters are trying to do. If they poured blood on the decision maker’s home or person the world would not know about it. That is the requirements of a protest, that you and I hear about it and find out what is going on. Yes, it’s disgusting. That’s the point. It’s not a modern day development. It’s ancient practice by people who feel terribly, terribly wronged and empowered to express themselves.

            As is the case with every protest, there are people on the sidelines who condemn them. You are condemning one protest and likely cheering another.

            There was no indication anywhere in the article that they were congratulating themselves. If you were there perhaps you can shed more light?

          • Dana

            “If they poured blood on the decision maker’s home or person the world would not know about it.”

            …but they poured blood at Dia’s front door and the world STILL DOES NOT KNOW ABOUT IT. If they consider “the world” to be the readers of one art news/criticism website, and the few coincidental passersby, then that furthers what I am saying about their futile actions being conceived in a depressingly narrow, and yes privileged worldview.

            Basically this does nothing but humiliate and make a mess for two undeserving young women. All the earnest respect for the memory of Ana Mendieta, I hope people will find more mature ways of preserving her great work and life.

          • DelC

            You know about it. I know about it. Others know about it. IT’s here in the news. How do you not follow that logic?

            Who do you think was humiliated?

  • kate
  • guest

    Couch potato haters going to hate because they want to keep the art status quo. If middle fingers, pussies, and chicken guts is what they need to f*n wake up, then MORE PLEASE!

  • Karin Smith

    Using the dead body of a defenseless animal as a protest symbol is just wrong. Chickens are the most exploited animals in the factory farming system. The point they are trying to make is completely invalidated by their own inhumane action.

    • sirdavies

      your point is completely invalidated by the fact that you have likely eaten meat at some point, if not today

  • jbani725

    There seems to be a number of comments accusing these protesters/performers of killing a chicken “in cold blood.” They weren’t the ones that killed the animal – the article says they stabbed a bag of blood. And does no one realize that this is an homage to Mendieta’s ritualistic piece where she also used chicken blood?

  • marinagp

    I was not there when Ana died…I do not know what happened…who am I to judge? Only Carl knows what happened….I have had many discussions about this issue with friends and yes…enemies…I saw Ana often in her beautiful studio, when we both were living in Rome…her work was taking a new turn. I miss her. A common friend of Ana , a prominent Latin American artist, who introduced me to Ana, told me recently that she has fantasies of Ana walking down the street now, so many years later, and wonder what people are doing with the cell phones…the common friend said Ana would say ‘coño’!… in Spanish something like: ‘ what the f…ck! is that?’… We laughed…I wish the same people in this picture, protesting the presence of Carl Andre’s work in the museum, would protest the incarceration in solitary confinement of inmates for decades or the death penalty…would it make a difference, if Carl was in jail, could then his work be shown? Often ‘justice’ is a synonym of vengeance….we do not know what happened…it was probably an accident…after executing an inmate, often, after his death, he is found innocent…here we are executing the man and his art practice…I guess the WAC demonstration was against the white boys club…what would have happened if Ana’s husband was an African American? Would we still be talking about patriarchy, boys club and so on?

    • guest

      But the fact is that he is not, and in light of the history of incarcerations, it’s not far-fetched to assume that he as an African American would be in solitary confinement, with hardly anyone defending him. His art (if profound) would be hidden until long after he died and would only be revealed by accident, by someone noticing, and being touched.
      Yes, we do a lot of things in anger and loss, because we know that justice is often uneven. Sometimes, it might not turn out as clean and clear as we would like. But the gesture is genuine and touching. Questioning structures that shelter/abandon artists based on status quo thinking and capital should always be questioned.

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