Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hen Abuse at the Hayward Gallery

Ana Mendieta
I've always felt that Carl Andre got away with murder.  Those bricks in the Tate Museum all those years ago were a fine demonstration of brazen chutzpah but little else.  Brutal in fact.  And nothing he's produced since has changed my mind.  I had forgotten about him until a trip to the Hayward Gallery in London yesterday reminded me of a more palpable crime with which he had been associated.  On show was the work of Cuban/American  artist Ana Mendieta who was living with Andre when she fell to her death from the 34th floor of their New York apartment.  Andre claimed ignorance of how she fell but scratches on his face and arms and the existence of a witness who heard  cries of "no" and "please don't"  led to his trial for second-degree murder.  She had been gathering evidence for a divorce from the artist and it has been suggested that she confronted him before the fatal fall.   However, having opted for a non-jury trial, he was found not-guilty by the presiding judge on the grounds that the evidence was not conclusive.  He continued through his art to fool enough of the people enough of the time to carve out a lucrative career.

Mendieta's work is angry and confrontational - there's a lot of blood and a lot of nudity.  Its appeal isn't compromised by her beauty.  It's mostly video and photography of installations and scenarios she set up.  A couple of works feature her nude and bloodied body simulating a rape and murder scene.  Apparently she invited unwary punters along to apartments and outdoor locations where they'd happen upon her apparently lifeless and abused corpse.  Now that's art that'll shake you up.  The most disturbing piece for me was a video where a nude Mendieta is handed a just decapitated chicken and she holds it (gingerly) by the legs while the unfortunate fowl bleeds out after some increasingly feeble flapping of its wings, and the occasional slow fall of a poignant feather.  Another piece shows her lying under a bloodied sheet with a large cow's heart on top.  (Shades perhaps of Alice Maher - certainly they share more than the same initials.)  This last image is a disquieting harbinger of her ultimate fate.  There are other pieces suggestive of her interest in Cuban voodoo - Santeria, and a lot of images and sculptures of her body imprint in wood and earth.  I exit the Hayward shaken and stirred and when I lunch at the BFI nearby I eschew the chicken option.