Yesterday I made the 10 minute walk to the Hirshhorn Museum from work to see the Ana Mendieta exhibit. Although I have seen a small handful of her photographs over the years, this was the first time I've seen a large amount of her work in one place.
The first gallery focuses on her Body Tracks series. Composed of several paintings, Mendieta created a mixture of red paint and animal blood, coated her hands, and then dragged her fingers down the canvas creating simple, bold arcs running top to bottom. Not that revolutionary, but what was interesting was the video accompanying the paintings. A short, continuous loop shows Mendieta standing in front of a canvas creating one of the very works in the room. I stood watching it for several minutes as she created the work, again and again.
The exhibit continues for several galleries, guiding you through a selection of photographs, drawings, paintings, sculpture and video. Her own body is a constant thread through all the work, be it the photographs of her gluing facial hair onto her own cheeks or digging a hole in the ground in the shape of her own body. Sculptures also evoked the female body in a general way, many re-using the idea of the labyrinth within the image. Videos showed the form with running water or on fire. Much of it seemed to be about the link we associate with the female form to nature, and it all felt strangely peaceful.
After the exhibit you immediately slip into a room filled with color field pantings by Clifford Still. I normally enjoy his work, but after coming out of the Mendieta show they seemed oppressive, overpowering and lacking the undefinable subtlety Mendieta seemed to create so easily.