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Extensive retrospective of the work of Ana Mendieta opens at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg
Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Facial Hair Transplant), 1972. Suite of seven colour photographs, estate prints 1997© The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C. Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York and Paris and Alison Jacques Gallery, London.
SALZBURG.- The Museum der Moderne Salzburg opened an extensive retrospective of the work of Ana Mendieta, one of our era’s most important and influential artists. Mendieta was born to a politically active family in Havana, Cuba in 1948. In the wake of the Cuban revolution, when she was only twelve years old, her parents sent her together with her sister to the United States. In 1985, at just thirty-six years old, she died under tragic circumstance in New York. During her short yet prolific career, she developed a unique visual language that is mesmerizing in its intimacy, and equally challenging. Her pioneering work has been acknowledged by large retrospectives in the United States and Europe, and is represented in the collections of major museums.

According to Sabine Breitwieser, director at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, who has arranged the exhibition, “a comprehensive exhibition in the German-speaking area, especially in Austria, and the German monograph on Ana Mendieta are long overdue. The artist’s distinctive work, in which she stages her body within the landscape, seems to be ideally exhibited at this site, where nature and the theatrical take on such a major role. Due to the fragility of the work, this could possibly be one of the last extensive Mendieta exhibitions.”

Among the central themes in Mendieta’s artistic work are exile and cultural displacement. In her search for identity and finding her place in the world, she attempted to create a dialogue between the landscape and the female body. Her work reveals numerous points of contingency with the emerging art movements of the 1960s and 1970s—Conceptual art, land art, and performance art. Nonetheless, it refuses any kind of categorization and instead addresses missing links or gaps between different media and art forms. “Through my art I want to express the immediacy of life and the eternity of nature,” wrote Mendieta in 1981. Using her own body and elementary materials, such as blood, fire, earth, and water, she created transitory pieces that combine rituals with metaphors for life, death, rebirth, and spiritual transformation. Her disembodied “earth body” sculptures were private, meditative ceremonies in nature documented in the form of slides and films. From them, Mendieta developed the so-called Siluetas (silhouettes), which form the core of her work. In the 1980s, Mendieta’s body disappeared from her artworks and she started to generate indoor works for galleries. Her engagement with nature continued in her sculptures and drawings, which she created as lasting works.

The exhibition presents roughly 150 works, which are organized throughout twelve spaces; two of these spaces are reconstructions of the original exhibitions by the artist. The works shown are in a multitude of media ranging from photography, film, and sculpture through to drawing. A further section will present the artist’s archive. Slides and photographs, notebooks and postcards offer insight into Mendieta’s working methods. The concern of Stephanie Rosenthal, chief curator of the Hayward Gallery London, is “to show Ana Mendieta’s outstanding work in all of its facets, and to place her artistic process at the center.”

While the artistic media that Mendieta utilizes in her works could not be any more diverse, the pictures that she produces are characterized by an unmistakable, overwhelming and mystical poetry. This exhibition makes clear that almost thirty years after the artist’s premature death, her work has lost none of its singularity and uniqueness.

Simultaneous to the Ana Mendieta exhibition, the Museum der Moderne Salzburg will show In Dialogue: Viennese Actionism, in which the collection holdings on this theme are developed in a larger framework for the first time. During her studies with Hans Breder at the Intermedia Program of the School of Art and Art History at the University of Iowa, USA, Mendieta came into contact with the work of the Viennese Actionists. Clear resonances are evident in Mendieta’s performances and artistic practice.

The exhibition has been organized by the Museum der Moderne Salzburg in cooperation with the Hayward Gallery, London, where Ana Mendieta. Traces was shown from September 24 to December 15, 2013.

Curators: Stephanie Rosenthal, Chief Curator of the Hayward Gallery, and Sabine Breitwieser, Director, with Tina Teufel, Curator, Museum der Moderne Salzburg. Exhibition architecture: Kuehn Malvezzi, Berlin

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