Critics’ Picks

Ana Mendieta, Parachute, 1973, 1/2" reel-to-reel videotape transferred to digital media, black and white, sound, 7 minutes 9 seconds.

New York

Ana Mendieta

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art & Storytelling
898 St. Nicholas Avenue
October 12–September 23

The major facts of Ana Mendieta’s life and work are well established. She was born in Cuba in 1948. Her family, at odds with Fidel Castro, sent her to the United States when she was twelve. A program run by the CIA and the Catholic Church landed her in foster care. She studied painting but was increasingly drawn to performance. Her materials included mud, feathers, blood, and her own body. She moved to New York and joined the feminist AIR Gallery. She met the minimalist sculptor Carl Andre, fell in love, and plunged to her death from the window of his apartment. She died at thirty-six but had accomplished so much as an artist—her work varied incredibly across a single decade—that her estate is still discovering new things: notably, three pieces dating from a little-known time in her life, when she worked as a school teacher in Iowa City and made her students’ capacity for imaginative play central to her practice.

Those works—including the single-channel video Parachute and the sound piece Untitled (Soul), both 1973—form the core of this novel exhibition, “Thinking About Children’s Thinking.” In the wobbly black-and-white video, we see Mendieta’s students turning a parachute into a dome-like dwelling, as peals of laughter sound across the playground. In the grainy audio, we hear them speculating wildly on what the soul of a person might be. Elsewhere, Mendieta’s famous Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants), 1972, is presented, ingeniously, as a game of dress-up. Does all of this work as a show for kids? Not really. The museum’s security staff exerts too much control over their behavior in the space for them to have much fun. But as a refreshing approach to an all too tragic story, it opens up a world of possibilities for new scholarship and all-ages exhibition-making.