In the wee hours of Sept. 8, 1985, up and coming Cuban–American artist Ana Mendieta, 36, plunged to her death from the window of a 34th-floor apartment in Manhattan. She was found dead 33 floors below, on the roof of the building’s deli.
She hit the surface so hard that her body left an imprint. The imprint echoed the “earth-body” artwork she was most known for, and many considered it to be her final installation.
Ana Mendieta wanted to be remembered for her art, but her death became a hotly debated controversy that divided the prestigious New York art world and put her work on the back burner. She became known for how she died rather than who she was or what she created.
Was Mendieta’s death the result of a horrific accident? Was it a suicide – an evocative final art piece where “she [became] whole by uniting her body with the earth?” Or did her husband, high-profile minimalist artist and sculptor, Carl Andre, kill her? Andre was the only witness, and his story of what happened changed dramatically and repeatedly from when he first called 911 to when he was charged with second-degree murder and later acquitted due to “insufficient evidence.”
Mendieta was a rising star in the contemporary art world who died just when her career was taking off. In Death of an Artist, a Pushkin and Somethin’ Else podcast, curator and art historian Helen Molesworth shines a light on Mendieta’s life and work as well as the growth of her legacy after her death.
Molesworth wastes hardly any time describing Carl Andre’s career, but rather pokes holes in his character and questions the underpinnings of his success. She effectively and vividly presents Ana’s tragic story anew, from the perspective of an insider who refuses to continue withholding information from public art consumers.
In this six-part true crime podcast, Molesworth asks her listeners, “Are you going to be a witness or are you going to be a bystander?” Death of an Artist is not Carl Andre’s story; it belongs to Ana Mendieta. It’s a sobering tale that shatters the silence that protected Andre’s career and reputation for nearly four decades.
Molesworth paints a chilling portrait of the conspiratorial real-world silences that favour white men and allow so-called “geniuses” to get away with murder. She is a powerful storyteller with strong feelings about Carl Andre, having been pushed out of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles when she and the museum director clashed over whether to program Andre in 2018.
Death of an Artist calls the art world’s tendency to separate art from the artist into question. It demands that we rethink “cancel culture” as well as how curators decide which art deserves to be exhibited.
Carl Andre benefited from his privilege as a white man and came to realize rules didn’t apply to him, as a groundbreaking artist or suspect on trial. He may have been acquitted for the murder of his wife, but Molesworth’s podcast argues he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of abusing the power and privilege that comes with being deemed “one of the greats.”
Silence remains the main line of defense for Andre and his supporters, but Death of an Artist sparks a long-awaited dialogue about how women and people of colour are given unfair disadvantage when it comes to having their work seen in galleries or voices heard in courtrooms.