When protesters marched on the opening of Tate Modern
’s new Switch House extension this past June, written across their banner was a question first asked three decades ago: “Where Is Ana Mendieta?”
The marchers, also known as the activist group WHEREISANAMENDIETA, are the latest in a long line of protestors who believe Cuban-born artist
was killed by her husband, the
—a crime for which he was acquitted in 1988. They had arrived at Tate to voice dissent over the inclusion of Andre’s fire-brick sculpture Equivalent VIII
(1966) in the new Switch House install, and the absence of works by Mendieta, of which Tate owns five.
For those convinced of Andre’s guilt, this was the latest episode in an ongoing injustice, in which art’s biggest institutions are complicit in lionizing a violent man and failing to adequately represent the work of women of color. Asked for comment, a Tate press officer I communicated with over email noted that Andre is “one of the leading Minimalist sculptors of his generation,” and a man vindicated in the eyes of the law.
During the early hours of September 8, 1985, Mendieta fell to her death from the 34th floor window of the Greenwich Village apartment she and Andre shared. Police arriving at the scene found scratches on Andre’s arms and nose. A nearby doorman testified to hearing a woman repeatedly pleading “No!” before the fall. In a call to 911, Andre told the operator that the couple had argued, following which “she went out the window.” Andre was cleared of second-degree murder, but misgivings concerning his acquittal have refused to go away, sparking three decades of public protest.
Mendieta arrived in the U.S. as a child refugee in 1961. By the 1980s, she had begun to establish herself as a feminist
artist in a predominantly white, male-dominated industry—an industry in which Andre, 13 years her senior, was already a celebrated figure. During Andre’s arrest and court case, key art world figures rallied to his defense. Frank Stella paid some $50,000 towards his bail, and a guest at Mendieta’s memorial service spoke of “a whisper campaign,” aimed at writing her off as a “loony Cuban.” (The influential gallerist Paula Cooper kept his sculpture Zinc-Zinc Plain
, 1969, on show for the trial’s duration.)
In response, those suspicious that the establishment had closed ranks around one of its own began taking to the streets. An anonymous poster campaign went up during the trial. “Ana Mendieta. Suicide? Accident? Murder?” read the message, followed by the District Attorney’s number.