The Elephant in MOCA's Room
including Los Angeles. Nor is the Andre "problem" limited to this one exhibition. Last year there was a protest at London's Tate Gallery over the fact that its refreshed permanent collection installation included Andre but not Mendieta.
|Demonstrators protesting Tate Gallery's showing of Carl Andre's art, 2016. Photo: Charlotte Bell|
''My wife is an artist, and I'm an artist, and we had a quarrel about the fact that I was more, eh, exposed to the public than she was. And she went to the bedroom, and I went after her, and she went out the window.''
That was Andre on the 911 call reporting the death of Mendieta. There were no eyewitnesses. Mendieta had fallen from the one bedroom of the couple's 34th floor apartment in Greenwich Village. Her body was found on the roof of a deli. A doorman said he heard a woman screaming "No, no, no, no," and then a thud.
Forensics showed a significant amount of alcohol in Mendieta's system. Andre had scratches on his arm and nose. He told police that Mendieta had gone to bed, and later he discovered she was not in the apartment.
The American legal system contemplates that some guilty parties will go free, in order to minimize wrongful convictions of the innocent. I believe Andre's acquittal was the correct verdict, given that the prosecution was unable to exclude "reasonable doubt." But American society has no good way of dealing with acquitted accused whose guilt or innocence remains ambiguous.
So what is the proper reaction to a museum show of an artist who might have committed a terrible act but might not have?
• One reaction is cynicism. Caravaggio was a murderer, and Richard Wagner was an antisemite. Great artists are not always nice people (duh). In the words of Mike Kelley, you pay for your pleasure.
• Related is "museums aren't courts of law." In 2011 Philippe Vergne told The New Yorker's Calvin Tomkins:
"Carl broke something, and he was ostracized, and it’s part of the story. But the work is there. We are a museum, not a court of law, and he is one of the most important artists of our time."
Museums aren't courts, but surely rap sheets count for something. Andre has not had a major single-artist museum show since 1970 (at the Guggenheim) and Mendieta's death is almost certainly a factor. (Andre's art is also featured in LACMA's "Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959-1971.")
• Maybe museums, like public speakers, should acknowledge the elephant in the room. Actually, I'm not sure anyone believes this helps much, but it's something museums do. The Smithsonian put up disclaimers after two dozen women accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping them: "The museum in no way condones this behavior." Uh-huh. For what it's worth, the MOCA show's gallery texts have no mention of Andre's prosecution.
|Ana Mendieta, from Silueta Works in Mexico. MOCA collection|
I don't think any of these reactions address the sense of existential misgiving. It is awful to think that Andre might have killed his wife, and awful to think that he may have been unjustly blamed for her death. So… Anybody?