Investigation: Museums & Domestic Abuse

I was scheduled to present on a panel at MCN2016 in NOLA titled, The Power of Vulnerability in Museums. The panel's discussion is inspired by Brené Brown's The Power of Vulnerability. This Spring I created several MuseumDraw digital feminist new-narratives exploring social violence, rape, genocide.. mostly from a Jewish perspective in World Heritage Sites currently in social/political turmoil. This Summer, I had the opportunity to develop some MuseumDraw Skype Sessions for a client with physical disabilities. These experiences are good case studies I could have shared on the panel. 

However, it's my newest, and most professionally (and personally) vulnerable work I would share: Since last #MCN2015, I started an ARTLAB in a Domestic Abuse Shelter, and am now in the middle of my first large Public Art collaboration, directing an Interactive Digital Video and VR Empathy Experience. This project has ignited a dialogue on romantic, sexual and domestic abuse I wish to explore in museums. The reason I'm not attending MCN is mostly financial, but also because I'm committed the DAP survivors by drawing purple flowers weekly until the event. Also, perhaps it's too early to present this material. I am only beginning my investigation and wish to present this vulnerable material with more power.


This on-going investigation is a work-in-progress. As I uncover more Artists, facts and statistics I'll add them to list. Warning: This material may be triggering to those with PSTD. 

Unfortunately there are many Artist stories, works and objects of domestic, or intimate partner violence or abuse in museums. Some stories and objects are obvious and some are not.. domestic violence is usually hidden from public awareness. The following are some of these stories, including Artists: Ana Mendieta, Nan Golden, Frida Kahlo and several more who are victims, survivors, or perpetrators of domestic or intimate partner physical, emotional or sexual abuse. 


Ana Mendieta 

"No, no, no, no" were the words Sept. 8th, 1985 that the doorman, of 300 Mercer Street in Greenwich Village, heard right before Ana Mendieta landed 33 stories onto the roof a deli below her, and husband of eight months Carl Andre's apartment. Although acquitted from murdering her in the 1988 trial by judge, another injustice was that many of their friends and the art-world sided with him. Not only did they doubt he did it, but also they seemed inconvenienced by her death and claimed the trial was interfering with Andre's exhibitions. Richard Serra offered half a million bail and Claes Oldenburg offered him his place to stay. It was the boy's club against early Feminist Artists. Her work wasn't really about her death, but some see a mystical connection

Andre boasts in this Interview, about frequently being drunk, beating people up and playground pecking order. He also proclaims himself to be a feminist and his favorite artist. Domestic Abuse perpetrators statistically use alcohol in 3 out of 4 reported cases of domestic violence, they also use intimidation, fear, gas-lighting, sexual coercion, and have inflated egos. After reading the interview, I believe he exhibits many red flags typical of a domestic abuser. 

Protest over the lack of justice for the death of Ana Mendieta continues today mostly with Feminist Artist groups and individuals conducting performance and riots at Dia: Beacon, and at the opening of the new Tate. Personally, I hate seeing Carl Andre's work in museums, they trigger my PTSD. His metal slab sculptures remind me of hard sidewalks, and I feel disappointment mention of the trial is omitted from his exhibitions. Ugh, why is his work even allowed in museums? I would like to start a petition to get rid of it if there isn't already one! 

Nan Golden

Nan One Month After Being Battered , 1984 (Photo by Suzanne Fletcher), and  Nan and Brian in Bed, NYC 1984,  Nan Golden, from   Ballad of Sexual Dependency .

Nan One Month After Being Battered, 1984 (Photo by Suzanne Fletcher), and Nan and Brian in Bed, NYC 1984, Nan Golden, from Ballad of Sexual Dependency.

"There is no separation between me and what I photograph" -Nan Goldin.

Powerfully naming her attacker, Brian was embarrassed when he read the title of Nan Golden's photo, Nan and Brian in Bed, NYC, 1984. He was just some guy she met at a bar she worked at in Times Square and dated. He disrespected her by reading her diaries, and likely the perpetrator of a savage beating documented by Nan's friend Suzanne Fletcher. Her slide-show photos document her life in NYC in the 80's.

Intimate partner abuse happens to 1 in 3 women in a lifetime. On a typical day, over 20,000 phone calls are made to national domestic abuse hotlines. Statistically about 20 people are abused every single minute, Nan Golden's documentation and by naming her abuser, Brian, she took charge when so often victims are subject to victim blaming, stalking and repeated attacks of violence.  

Frida Kahlo

Frida and Diego Rivera , Frida Kahlo, 1931 at @SFMOMA, and  Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair,  Frida Kahlo, 1940 at @MuseumModernArt 

Frida and Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, 1931 at @SFMOMA, and Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, Frida Kahlo, 1940 at @MuseumModernArt 

Frida Kahlo, is known as a Feminist icon and partners in a fiery passion-fueled marriage with Diego Rivera, but I see their relationship as controlling, and emotionally, physically and sexually abusive. I believe he was sadistic and took pleasure in her pain and dependency. Frida was a victim of cycle of pain and love associated with domestic abuse.

A Few Small Nips (Passionately in Love), Frida Kahlo, 1935 (Private Collection)  A Few Small Nips  was painted after Frida experienced the betrayal of Diego and her sister Christina had been having a year-long affair together. The title refers to a domestic homicide trial of that day when the defendant claimed "But it was just a few small nips!" Frida identified with the slain woman and told her friend that she felt "murdered by life."  (Brooks)

A Few Small Nips (Passionately in Love), Frida Kahlo, 1935 (Private Collection) A Few Small Nips was painted after Frida experienced the betrayal of Diego and her sister Christina had been having a year-long affair together. The title refers to a domestic homicide trial of that day when the defendant claimed "But it was just a few small nips!" Frida identified with the slain woman and told her friend that she felt "murdered by life." (Brooks)

In a Vanity Fair article on Frida's diary, art historian and specialist on Frida Kahlo, Dr. Salomón Grinberg, shows her association between pain and love started earlier than Diego. As a child her mother was cold and disassociated, as she had lost a male child right before Frida was born. Frida though her home was a sad place. It was her father that was more connected and loving, apparently it was him who told informed her school when she eventually started her period. Unfortunately, Frida developed polio as a 6-7 year old child that disabled her with a limp, eventually this led to hip issues.

When she was 15, she saw Diego doing a mural at her school and obsessively claimed one day to have his child. While riding on a trolley with her current boyfriend, Frida's life changed as a result of a tragic traffic accident. During the accident the trolly's metal handrail pierced through the lower left side of her body and exited from her vagina, tearing one lip, as well as fracturing her spine and pelvic bones each in three places, two ribs and collarbone, her polio-shortened right leg in 11 places, and her right foot was crushed and dislocated. Prophetically, during the accident her clothes were torn off and a nearby passenger's gold flake pigment gilded over her bare bloody and broken body. 

During her month long recovery (her mom only came twice) and after-care at home, she wrote long love-lorn obsessive letters to her boyfriend, who's attentions had faded. It was at this time Frida started painting. Her first was a portrait to give her bf in a sad attempt to try to make him think of her. Painting was her desperate plea for attention which reflected her all her physical and emotional suffering. Her family dynamics, polio, the trolly accident, and subsequent rejection of romantic love created a cycle that would repeat itself over the next 30 surgeries and poor recoveries until her death at 47.

In 1927 She reconnects with Diego, insisting her critique her paintings, they are married two years later. Diego's infidelities are so common he considers sex with women is like talking a piss. While traveling in United States painting murals, Frida combats his infidelities and her jealousy by sleeping with the same women. They both had numerous affairs with other famous Artists, and journalists. Frida was homesick for Mexico. Resentful for their return, Diego started a year-long affair with Frida's sister Christina. The betrayal was so hurtful Frida painted herself bloodied and slain. Eventually Frida got revenge on Diego with a brief dalliance with Leon Trotsky, who Diego idolized and helped bring to Mexico. 

. . . . 


Start of List of Perpetrators and Artist Relationships to Investigate:

Picasso: of seven wives two committed suicide, two went crazy, he reportedly beat one to a pulp and burned another, chronic infidelity, treated women as doormats.. psychopathic 

Muybridge: Shot his wife's lover and was acquitted, as if infidelity was punishable with death (was it?) Separated because they had violent quarrels (learn more about!!)

Jackson Pollack & Lee Krasner   

Fra Filippi Lippi & Lucrezia Ruti - abducted teen from nunnery and was possible sex slave? was it really love? 

Rodin and Camille Claudel 

Jasper Johns and Rosenquist

Tassi & Artemisia - rapist 

Walter Holdt and Lavinia - She shot them but they drank and argued violently.. although killed in his sleep, I wonder if this is a self-defense case.. 

Notes & More Reading and Artists to Learn About:

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, Canan Senol

Weeping Woman, Pacita Abad

Ana Mendieta Protests at Dia

Picasso: Women Either Goddesses or Doormats

TV Tropes: Destructive Romance

Margaret Keane on Her Abuse: Big Eyes Interview