Monthly Archives: May 2014

#YesAllWomen‬ and #NotAllMen‬

In the past two days, since the latest mass murder at Isla Vista, California, the Twitter hashtag #NotAllMen has generated a responding hashtag #YesAllWomen which has gone viral, with over a million tweets within 48 hours. This evening I counted about one tweet per second. That is, via #NotAllMen men have made the generally reasonable but also defensive assertion that not all men are homicidal misogynists, or maybe that at least not all misogynists are homicidal maniacs. There are also many Tweets by women at #NotAllMen responding to the more defensive aspects of the comments by men. Definitely the subject matter for someone’s dissertation! #YesAllWomen has responded with the widely shared experiences of women that not only do many–some statistics say one in three, some say one in four–women experience sexual or gendered abuse in their lifetime, but all women live with fear  of violence based specifically and simply on their being female as well as with other forms of discrimination. The tweets including many images have contained damning statistics, and also deployed humor very effectively. I read the text in the image below out loud to a friend over the phone, as the script of a skit. Try it.

There are so many dimensions to the most recent, Isla Vista/University of California at Santa Barbara massacre, and discussions and reactions have focused on mental illness, gun control, racism, misogyny. It is important that the rage that women feel at the misogynist component of this latest of so many similar tragedies/atrocities afflicting this country in particular must be accompanied by a feminist, gendered analysis of events and of power so that outrage can lead to all types of  political activism, whether it is  in the form of marches and actions that raise awareness, like the #YesAllWomen phenomenon has, or in the form of involvement in politics in a more conventional form, helping defeat the legions of Tea Party assholes making idiotic claims about female anatomy and restricting women’s access to health care, abortion, birth control, equal pay for equal work, justice in the military etc…

So, I posted the following today on Facebook:

Re #‎NotAllMen‬ and ‪#‎YesAllWomen‬, here’s a less sexualized point: all women have to study the creative work of men, if they go to school, if they want to succeed in professions, but in my experience as a feminist artist and educator practically no men ever feel that the incredibly rich body of artwork, literature and discussion by women specifically in the period of second wave feminism of the past fifty or sixty years (as well as in the hundreds of years before) is necessary for them to study and learn from. I’ve been to countless panels over the years where really important art and ideas were discussed but since they had to do with women artists and feminism, there were maybe 5% men in the room. It’s something people joke about it is so pervasive. Male artists have certainly benefited from the permissions both formal and thematic coming from feminism but they don’t see the need to participate or even witness the discourse. Perhaps they feel excluded or that they wouldn’t be welcome, but women don’t get to make that kind of decision about taking courses or attending lectures and symposia on world literature, philosophy, art etc etc etc if they want to survive in the world. …so much more to say and many different ways of saying it.

The entire post and comments thread is public, here are some heartfelt, eloquent and thoughtful selections from the conversation that followed:

Joni Spigler: Totally on or off topic, last night I decided to download Sense and Sensibility from the Pirate Bay and because I guess mostly guys use torrents all the comments were in the form of “hey this is a great film if you want to impress your lady”. There was no other reason for that film to be on the site or for anyone to download it….Whereas any action movie gets comments about image quality and screen ratio, sound etc.

Tracy Ann Essoglou: Yes, thank you again Mira. This is what I call “The disproportionate work of being human.” We study not just ‘them’ but always and only ‘through’ them: be it creative, philosophical, medical… The white European male is still the standard in all disciplines, evaluations, social terms… expecting access and dominion. Th rest of us are still mostly just scurrying about for the crumbs.

Ken Vallario: there are many men who agree, but such men are also victims of dominant males, and similarly alienated from an art world that is not ideology-neutral. feminism is for me, as a man, husband, father of a daughter, one of my primary philosophical commitments…i think the art world is too corrupt to be fixed, and so i have begun the philosophical process of trying to create new categories for intellectual engagement that is holistic, sustainable and egalitarian. and the fact that such a thing can be strongly female, seems to me to be a plus. i think the art world, as is, is a bubble that will eventually implode, and there will be a great hunger for alternatives when that happens…consider me an ally. We live in a world with many evolved women and men have not fully realized that they too can rise up against male dominance, as the sensitive ones feel conflicted about confrontation…

Michelle Rogers: We also need to consider how we women continue to support these structures. Look at the amount of women that you see visiting any museum or attending art galleries. We show up, we keep applauding and supporting these guys and institutions that are so prejudiced against us!

Mira Schor: we show up because we are interested and want to be informed.

Amy Ruth Buchanan: Perfectly put, thank you. It starts in childhood. Generally speaking, girls will get more support and approval for “crossing over” into traditionally boy-identified games, pop culture, and interests than the reverse.

Lucy Meskill: When there is only one door to enter a power structure through, one must avail themselves of it, it is what one does once they are inside that makes a difference. I do not blame any woman for learning to play a man’s game, since it’s the only game in town, once enough of women are in power positions that in theory should make more portals of entry available. That is if we remember to be agents for change once inside.

Mira Schor: but the thing is, first of all, I don’t consider Goya, or Giotto or Dickens or Mondrian or Guston –fill in the blank–as a man’s game, those artists speak to me and give me language that is just as valuable to me as the language that Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Virginia Woolf, Carolee Schneemann, Louise Bourgeois, Maria Lassnig, Ida Applebroog, and Ana Mendieta–fill in the blank– do, I feel they are my birthright as a human being, they enrich my life, and I am in conversation with them, but the reverse does not seem to hold true. But, second, there is a class of knowledge and art production that also gives me language but I feel it is masculinist and misogynistic, it still may be great but it is much more problematic to me but I still need to learn as much of it as I can, and what I don’t manage to learn or stir up enough interest in, I suffer from not knowing, and I mean suffer professionally as well as intellectually and perhaps politically in all senses: cf. in the 80s and 90s if you referenced Lacan you were on the right side of history, if you referenced Irigaray you were an essentialist and good luck to you. I’m not even bringing in the fact that in the post Lacan/Butler era many women refuse to identify with the word/concept Woman, don’t question their identification with masculinities in the name of gender freedom, and wouldn’t show up at the panels and symposia I’m talking about either. As I said, there is so much to say and so many ways of saying it. I also should say that I am to blame in that I have internalized the inequality: when I find myself in a really interesting discussion in a panel or symposium I kick myself for not having insisted that my students, male and female, should have attended because there is so much that is REAL that is being spoken about and deeply felt, as opposed to some other academic situations they may be exposed to, but I didn’t because I have internalized the meaning of that 5% attendance, that ghettoization of feminist concerns and practices.

Monika Weiss: This is such a vast and painful topic… and I am happy we are talking about it. Thank you Mira for taking this on. This is rather avoided from public debates, and by all means, omitted. It’s starts in schools, not in art schools but in regular primary schools, in fact it starts on the level of governments and education programs and what is required and what is not, to educate new generations. By the time I get my graduate MFA candidates, they went through all processes, have read “Lives of Great Artists” as children and grew up with covert (or not) misogynist stories with the assumption of normalcy. How to unravel this on the level of graduate study not to mention symposia and panels, which I also find disturbing in this way? It’s a cultural and political work, but also legal, policy-based and legislative. If for example a given enlightened/developed country might require that women writers and artists need to be part of the cultural histories taught in primary schools, as an actual enforced policy (literally, going down to numbers of women present in a given curriculum, like we did with gender based discrimination in a work place)—then perhaps after a few decades of forced and unnatural condition, we may arrive and “naturalness” of such approach. However this leads back to the government and the rather weak presence of women, even in more developed countries. This said – we also can help to some degree, perhaps by our teaching involvement (so many of us artists teach more or less throughout our lives) and by being vocal and present in public about it all [this is possibly funny coming from a rather shy person as I am]. But on a deeper level though, our main enemy – which is also the current system of inequality’s main friend — is the very idea of “difference” and of otherness, any otherness but in this case between men and women. Being in the position of inferiority (as perceived by the ‘master’ – the white, wealthy male) we cannot claim to possess exact sameness (just like black men/women or poor classes, immigrants etc) rather, we out to claim equality in difference, and I mean by it in any difference, not just the one that is genitalia-based… so while I will always support and identify with women around the world, I wonder how we can continue the philosophical (and therefore cultural and political) work of people such as for instance Judith Butler and her performativity of gender as well as her recent work against war, and Bracha Ettinger, and her brilliant work on matrixial space, for example. As artists, can we contribute to undermining this prevailing status-quo? A lot of progress has been made, especially within academia, where we have all kinds of Gender Studies or, from a different field, Holocaust Studies etc. but what has to be done with regards to the outside world, the world that reads the “Lives of Great Artists” and that believes that our senators’ knowledge of science is sufficient?

Andrew Falkowski: Is this statement pointed primarily towards major museums, collections, curation?

Mira Schor: no, my statement certainly includes these categories but I think it is pretty evident that it has to do with all aspects of cultural life, how is a woman educated, what is presented as important and essential to her being an educated person, how is a man educated, what is deemed important and essential for him to be an educated person.

Rachel Youdelman: Great discussion, Mira. At an event I attended when my daughter was in high school, the English teacher apologized to the parents of the boys in her class for teaching Jane Austen.

A previous conversation thread on Facebook yesterday was inspired by Rebecca Solnit‘s post of a section of her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, about the fear of assault that women feel at all times and that controls their behavior whether they are actually in danger at any given moment or not. See her informative posts on recent events here (most are set to public)

It is a sad but telling coincidence that my previous two posts on A Year of Positive Thinking were about the murder of Ana Mendieta.

The conversation goes on.

 

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Letters to the Editor of the New Yorker, Unpublished

The theme of my previous post, “Still ‘Naked By The Window,'” was the fascination of watching patriarchy take care of its own, in this case tracking the orchestration of efforts, over a period of years, to restore Carl Andre’s personal reputation in advance of his retrospective at Dia, there being no question of needing to restore his artistic reputation which is unquestioned and secure. One step in this process was the publication of “The Materialist,” Calvin Tomkins’  December 5, 2011 New Yorker profile of Andre.

As a result of my post, I was made aware of two letters to the editor of the New Yorker that were sent immediately following the publication of Tomkins’ profile. One was from Mendieta’s gallerists, Mary Sabbatino of Galerie Lelong in New York and Alison Jacques of Alison Jacques Gallery in London, and from Mendieta’s sister and administrator of her estate, Raquelin Mendieta, and one from art historian Abigail Solomon-Godeau. Neither letter was published.

The letters are both interesting, they go over similar points but with important different emphases and information, and they contain material that I was not able to articulate as knowledgeably in my brief text. It is important to know what these letters contain, but also important to know that these letters were not published. It is important to know how hierarchies are maintained as much by what is left out of the historical record as by what is allowed in. It is in that spirit that I asked for permission to reproduce these letters here for the record and I thank the signatories for allowing me to do so.

*

From: Mary Sabbatino

Sent: Wednesday, December 07, 2011 8:45 PM

To: themail@newyorker.com

Subject: Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor: re: December 5, 2011 Calvin Tomkins “The Materialist”

It is disturbing to read how easily Calvin Tomkins, one of the most respected and beloved journalists of our time, fell sway to the same strategy of blaming the victim as was employed by Mr. Andre’s defense team in Ana Mendieta’s murder trial. Equally alarming from a writer and editorial team of such caliber is the repeated presentation of conjecture or opinion as fact “(an) artist who fell from the bedroom window”, “loneliness made Mendieta a rebel,”… “her anger spilled over in public..”– and the omission of crucial facts about the murder investigation. Mr. Tomkins characterizes Mendieta;s art as “morbid”, but would he use the same pejorative lens when discussing a male artist dealing with violence in his work? Regrettably, this reveals an underlying bias, in which Mr. Andre is repeatedly portrayed with positive attributes and Ms. Mendieta with negative ones.

Mr. Tomkins omitted two notable points from Mr. Andre’s recollection of the event. According to Mr. Andre, whose present memory differs significantly from his contemporaneous statements, Ms. Mendieta lost her balance in the action of opening a stuck window in their apartment and fell to her death. This story is in direct contradiction with Mr. Andre’s recorded conversation with the 911 Operator on the night/early morning of Ms. Mendieta’s death. Mr. Andre told the operator that he and his wife were watching television and began to argue, that she went into the bedroom and he followed her. Mr. Tompkins may not have been aware that when the police came to the apartment they noted scratches on Mr. Andre’s face and that no footprints nor fingerprints by Ms. Mendieta were recovered on the windowsills. Because of irregularities with the police’s collection of the evidence and with the search warrant, neither was admissible in the trial, but both were part of the pre-trial hearings. As evidence of Mr. Andre’s community of support, Mr. Tomkins points out that none of Mr. Andre’s former companions would testify against him, but this is not the only possible interpretation. Richard Finelli, the detective who investigated the case for the prosecution, told the artist’s sister, Raquelin Mendieta, that many were reluctant to testify because they feared a negative effect on their art careers.

We are rightly horrified when a woman in Afghanistan is “pardoned” for rape but must marry her rapist. We should reserve at least a shred of indignation that Ana Mendieta’s character, as many victims of rape or domestic violence find out, is on trial all over again.

Sincerely yours,

Mary Sabbatino,

Vice President, Galerie Lelong, New York

Alison Jacques, Alison Jacques Gallery, London, UK

Raquelin Mendieta, Administrator, Estate of Ana Mendieta, Los Angeles, CA

*

To the editor:

Unlike all of Calvin Tomkins’ essays on contemporary artists, his recent one on Carl Andre must necessarily discuss the circumstances by which the artist faced the charge of homicide. Acquitted on the charge after two trials, and as all who have written on her death (Tomkins included) acknowledge, the truth of what happened that night will never be known by anyone except by Andre. In this respect, Andre’s own memories seem surprisingly more detailed now then they were at the time of his trials, as the transcripts reveal. This, despite his current problems with memory loss as a result of a fall two years ago. Tomkins’ characterization of Andre as an “invisible” figure in the art world is absurd. His work sells for huge sums, is housed in museums throughout the world, and is discussed in greater or lesser detail in every survey book on contemporary art in the English language. His bibliography is substantial. Dia does not exhibit “invisible” artists.

That said, I am writing only to remark that Tomkins’ treatment of Mendieta, both as an artist and as a person, is in depressing conformity with a certain narrative first developed in the mass media. In this scenario, Mendieta’s ethnicity and character (i.e., young, hard drinking, tempestuous Latina), her own artistic stature (null, aside from her grants) is contrasted with Andre’s own commanding reputation as an internationally lauded and indeed, canonized figure within contemporary art.

Given the figures marshaled in his legal defense, not a few people declined to testify, thinking of its possible effects on their own artistic reputations. Thus, the inequities embodied in the trials themselves are skirted. Although no one was privy to the events of her death, Andre’s character witnesses were a Who’s Who of the art world’s most powerful artists, gallerists, museum professionals, and critics; this tells its own story about art world politics. On the side of the prosecution, a Cuban American family and (implied by Tomkins) some vindictive feminists, a cabal of which, as Tomkins implies, have, like the furies, spitefully pursued the stoically laconic artist.

For the record, too, I would like to mention that Mendieta’s artistic reputation, ended at the age of 36, is constantly growing and is, of course, posthumous.

Sincerely yours,

Abigail Solomon-Godeau

 

Ana Mendieta: a retrospective, catalogue, New Museum 1987

 

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Still “Naked by the Window”

It is always fascinating to watch patriarchy take care of its own. A major retrospective of Carl Andre is about to open at Dia and first off let me just say that it looks like it will be a good exhibition, maybe a really good exhibition, one with some interest to contemporary artists struggling to reconcile the real, theory or something like rigor with materiality.

Now for the patriarchy takes care of its own side of the story: there are many people in the New York artworld who believe that Carl Andre threw his wife Ana Mendieta out the window of their thirty-fourth floor apartment at 300 Mercer Street in the Village, September 8, 1985. At the time of the event and of Andre’s trial for second degree murder, people were divided by personal loyalties that transcended even dearly held shared political beliefs, so that not just prep school classmates such as Frank Stella, Andre’s dealers (Konrad Fischer and Paula Cooper), and ex-wife, but also some major feminists including Lucy Lippard sided with Andre because of their personal relationships with him, romantic and otherwise. Old friendships were shattered by which side people testified for at the trial, the defense or the prosecution. I strongly recommend Robert Katz’s 1990 book Naked By the Window: The Fatal Marriage of Carl Andre and Ana Mendieta. It’s really a fascinating book, a rich view of the New York art world at the time, especially if one knew even a few of the cast of characters, which I did, it is very layered, both objective and passionate, impressionistic in structure but very well researched, and convincing. The point where Assistant DA Elizabeth Lederer stood at the window and considered what had happened from the point of view of how short Mendieta was and how high the window sill was, stands out in my memory. The other thing that stands out in my memory of the story as told in the book is when Frank Stella writes a personal check for a quarter of a million dollars to post bail for Andre: “Ordover [Andre’s attorney] was called back and told that the entire quarter of a million in cash could be picked up at once at Stella’s bank.” (Katz, 85). The forces of patriarchy at work.

OK so then flash forward to December 5, 2011 when the New Yorker published “The Materialist,”  a Calvin Tomkins profile of Andre, which was a kind of laying of the ground work for the Dia show. One of the basic premises of the profile was laid out by Andre’s current wife at the outset, that Andre has short-term memory problems as the result of a fall a few years ago, might be vague about a lot of stuff, bla bla.. So that’s patriarchy at work, first, creating a softer image, calling for sympathy, although in fact in the article Tomkins noted that finally he detected no signs of any memory problems.

Tomkins did point out that some of the women who were Andre loyalists were former girlfriends, but at the same time if you read the article it sounds like “some feminists” thought he was guilty and would harass him if they saw him in public places–that is, the implications is that only feminists thought he was guilty, you know, those harpies, whereas in fact the judge’s wording of the verdict (and implications in Katz’s text based on interviews) suggested a relation to the judgement available in British jurisprudence but not in the US, that is, what would have been a verdict of “not proven,” meaning he probably did it, but in the end the verdict was “I have concluded that the evidence has not satisfied me beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.” It was a “he said” situation, there would be no “she said.”

Then today, May 5, 2014, print copy, New York Times, full court press, “Minimalist Retrospective Gets a Master’s Touch,” installation of the show at Dia, Carl Andre is depicted completely differently, as perfectly sharp, no memory problems, totally on top of the installation of the show, “he is as quick-witted and dryly caustic as he was said to be in his youth.” Which is it? Short term memory loss but sharp as a tack when it comes to his retrospective?

I posted a version of this post on Facebook this morning, jumping up from breakfast after reading the New York Times article, and there has been a passionate response (I’ve made the Facebook post public so that the comments thread can be accessed by anyone who is on Facebook ). Some of the comments and also private messages to me were fascinating as they reflected some of the splits of opinion which had riven the artworld at the time. One message to me quoted Richard Prince’s view apparently as expressed in his stream of consciousness blog entries BIRDTALK,  “I don’t know what happen to Carl Andre’s wife. No one will. Lawrence Wiener says Carl didn’t have anything to do with her death, and that’s enough for me.” [I take this quote of Richard Prince in the same light one may take his Playboy joke paintings, as actual sexism or as satire, take your pick or take both]. Others recalled details from the trial, or related personal experiences of what a violent drunk Andre could be (presumably back in the day, before he became a dithery retiree). Another person mentioned an art project by Michael Stevenson, which apparently was based on Katz’s book, and included “a ‘sculpture’ that was a scale model of the window sill,” (unfortunately no image of this work could be found in a Google image search). Another pointed out that “It would seem that the powers that be were waiting for a generation to literally ‘pass’; some of us, however, have confounded them, with our memories fully intact.”

It is an old story that some very good art is made by some very awful people and that people are both good and bad, but it is really important that the story be told, not just that it happened, but the way Carl Andre was protected and continues to be.

 

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