PRINT March 2016


Rosemarie Castoro, Face Cracking, 1969, Polaroid, 3 × 4". From the series “Cracking,” 1969.

I am in dirt continually. The closer I am to myself the dirtier I become. My studio is covered with graphite. I am Diogenes sitting in a pile of dust. My ocean is made of graphite in front of which I tumble, chase, flop over.

ROSEMARIE CASTORO wasn’t precious about her work. As a dancer, painter, sculptor, and writer, she reveled in art’s material activation on the staging ground of the city street, the journal page, or her SoHo studio, where she lived for more than fifty years. Nor was she afraid to get her hands dirty. She was a member of the Art Workers’ Coalition and among the handful of artists asked by this magazine, in 1970, to answer the question, “What is your position regarding the kinds of political action that should be taken by artists?” She recommended straightforward economic steps (use the tax from works by dead artists sold at auction to support living artists) and philosophically theorized about her place within the creative order: “I think of myself as a container, and what I do as an eruption of what I am,” her statement began. “Where do you get nourished? That’s where you have something to do.”

This past spring, Castoro died unexpectedly, leaving behind a body of work that shows an artist at the center of Minimalist and Conceptualist practices, yet overlooked in those movements’ narratives. Her obscurity is hardly unique. But it may have been encouraged by her work’s structural unraveling of formal systems themselves—an abstract elegance underwritten by deeply personal tracts that “constitute the best ‘fiction’ I have read about the life of an artist,” as Lucy R. Lippard wrote in these pages in 1975, accompanying Castoro’s own text cited in the epigraph here.

History rarely knows what to make of such testimony. But we will begin to try: In an exclusive portfolio in the pages that follow, we find again and again the artist’s nimble suspension of abstraction and figuration through the form of the line. Evoking Richard Serra’s famous Verb List, 1967–68, the line runs through the center of her practice as a physical act: to tumble, to chase, to flop over, to divide. It serves as a marker of presence (no small thing for a woman artist coming up in the 1960s) and as a critical device for mapping interior, interpersonal, and exterior landscapes. We find line as testimony (in her diary entries and graph-paper concrete poems); as spatial fault line (in her “Cracking” pieces, 1969, for which she wound aluminum tape over sidewalks, gallery floors, and even her face); as erotic, electric tangles (in small sculptures such as Wall’s Underconsciousness [Chaos is a beast of knots and tangled hair scratching at your feet until told where to go by rational thoughts] from 1976); and as limbs and masses (in wood, galvanized steel sheets, and plaster works that sweep, dangle, dance, huddle, and perch). In the “Y” drawings and paintings, ca. 1964–65, line is a graphic symbol undergoing serial permutations. And it is nowhere more pivotal than in Castoro’s astonishing “Inventory” series, made between 1968 and 1969, in which she tracked her daily interactions with both friends and strangers via a notational rubric of her own devising that, while conceptually complex and not a little mysterious, has the stunning formal clarity of a Fred Sandback drawing. (See, for example, her Portrait of Sol LeWitt with Donor and Friends—October 3, 1968.)

There’s often a witty openness to Castoro’s systems, a seam in her works through which the world comes in, disturbing any perfect order. Her “Inventory” lines may be rigidly quantitative, but they haphazardly fall and trip over each other. Even the “Y” paintings feel as if they have broken free of their prescribed structure in a dynamic scatter of color and form. The same is true of her instruction pieces. Take, for instance, Running (POLAROID SELF TIMING), 1968–70, in which Castoro performs her own script and then documents her performance. One is told to “focus at infinity,” set the timer of a Polaroid camera on a tripod, “start running,” and turn “when you think time is up”—and to enact the entire sequence eight times. On March 21, 1970, Castoro placed her tripod in the middle of a derelict, cobblestoned section of Washington Street in Lower Manhattan and began Running. In one photograph, she is captured with her back to the camera and looks like she’s about to do a cartwheel. In another, she has made her way much farther down the street and strides toward the camera, smiling. Her subsequent notes are at once analytical and confessional, recounting how she broke into a deserted building to clean her equipment and, in another trial, how she “returned from 56 paces although the self-timer went off earlier than expected.” For Castoro, the line of experience was never fixed in time.

Prudence Peiffer

For additional material, including the September 1970 issue of Artforum, visit our archive at

Rosemarie Castoro, October 20, 1969 #2, 1969, colored pencil and black tape on paper, framed 12 × 8 5/8".

Rosemarie Castoro, Purple Orange, 1965, acrylic on canvas, 84 × 84". From the series “Y,” ca. 1964–65.

Rosemarie Castoro, Branch Dance, 1977, wood, 9 3/4 × 12 × 3".

Rosemarie Castoro, Atoll, “RC as Instrument,” 1969, gelatin silver print, 11 × 8 1/2". From the series “Streetworks II,” 1969.

Rosemarie Castoro, Portrait of Sol LeWitt with Donor and Friends—October 3, 1968, graphite on paper, 12 1/8 × 19 1/4". From the series “Inventory,” 1968–69.

Rosemarie Castoro, In Celebration of Part Time Work, The Spaces Between the Objects Oct 28, 1968 April 1969, 1968–69, graphite and colored pencil on paper, 19 1/4 × 24 1/4". From the series “Inventory,” 1968–69.

Rosemarie Castoro, Multi Raw Bar, 1965, acrylic on canvas, 5' 11 1/2” × 11' 10".

Rosemarie Castoro, Blue Interference, 1965, acrylic on paper, 13 × 10".

Rosemarie Castoro, Running (POLAROID SELF TIMING) (detail), 1968–70, pen on graph paper, typewriting on paper, eleven black-and-white Polaroids, this page 11 × 8 1/2".