Sabra Moore at the MoMA

In December 2019, I visited the newly-reopened MoMA. Gallery 205 – “Print, Fold, Send” features the Reconstructed Codex (photocopier edition), a work created by Sabra Moore and nineteen collaborators (including Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Emma Amos, Camille Billops, Nancy Spero, Virginia Jaramillo, and Helen Oji, among others). This work was created for Reconstruction Project, a January 1984 show at Artists’ Space curated by Moore. Reconstruction Project was a part of Artists Call Against U.S. Intervention in Central America (Artists Call), a 1984 series of shows, performances, and actions in response to the Reagan administration’s funding of the counterinsurgent Contras in Nicaragua and genocide of indigenous Maya peoples in Guatemala.

Case of small paper artworks

Moore discusses her curatorial and creative process in her memoir, Openings:

I was in the midst of reading books written during the Spanish conquest of the Americas. One was by the third bishop of the Yucatan, Diego de Landa, the seminal scholar for Maya studies and also the person who destroyed the codices in 1562. He described that auto-da-fe plainly and without apology: ‘We found a great number these books…and since they contained nothing but superstitions and falsehoods of the devil, we burned them all, which they [the Maya] took most grievously, and which gave them great pain.’ Only four Maya codices survived this conflagration.

How could a person who appreciated a culture choose destroy it? This historical event felt current to me … We could symbolically renew a codex, and, in the process, educate ourselves … I chose the Dresden Codex, named after the European city where it now resides, as the book to reconstruct. The accordion-shaped codex unfolds to thirteen feet; ours had the same dimensions. (Moore, Openings, 99)

In addition to the large-scale Reconstructed Codex, the Reconstruction Project show included large wall-hung works by participating artists. The photocopier edition now on view at the MoMA was created after the show and was first exhibited at MoMA in 1988, in Committed to Print: Social & Political Themes in Recent American Art, curated by Deborah Wye.

Sabra Moore was also involved in another MoMA re-opening, just months after Reconstruction Project, in June 1984, when she co-organized the Women Artists Visibility Event (W.A.V.E.) / Let MOMA Know protest. This action protested the re-opening of MoMA after a year of renovations with An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture, which featured 14 women artists among 165 artists total, almost all of them white. This was not the first protest at MoMA, nor was it Moore’s first time planning a protest.

Two people holding a banner reading MOMA – Do Only White Men Make Art?”
Susan Miller (left) and Maria Elena Gonzalez (right) holding banner “MOMA – Do Only White Men Make Art?” Photographer: Clarissa Sligh
Two people talking in front of a crowd
Sabra Moore (left) talking to Lucy Lippard (right). Photographer: Clarissa Sligh
Person wearing a sash in front of a crowd
Emma Amos wearing “Nancy Spero” sash (left). Photographer: Clarissa Sligh

You can learn more about Reconstruction Project; see a model MoMA with names and show cards of women artists from the Let MoMA Know project; learn more about feminist art worlds of New York City in the later 20th century; and get acquainted with Sabra Moore’s curatorial work, her period as a counselor at Women’s Services (the first legal abortion clinic in NY), and her time producing Heresies as a member of the Heresies Collective from 1970-1991 in the Sabra Moore NYC Women’s Art Movement Collection, 1969-1996 at the Barnard Archives and Special Collections. Her memoir is also available through CLIO.

WORDY, a solo show of works by Sabra Moore from the same period as her archival collection at Barnard, will be open at the Barnard Archives Hope L. and John L. Furth Reading Room from March 23 – April 30, 2020. There will be an opening on March 25 and an artist talk on March 26th; more information will be shared on the Barnard Library website.

The full-size Reconstructed Codex will be on display in 2021 at the Tufts University Art Galleries, Boston in an exhibit on Artists Call titled Art for the Future: Artists Call and Central American Solidarity in the 1980s, co-organized by Erina Duganne and Abigail Satinsky.

— Martha Tenney

Further reading

Wikipedia articles on Sabra Moore and Let MoMA Know created at Barnard Library Wikipedia edit-a-thons

Moore, Sabra. Openings : A Memoir from the Women’s Art Movement, New York City 1970-1992. New York, NY: New Village Press, 2016. (catalog record in CLIO)

Sabra Moore NYC Women’s Art Movement Collection, 1969-1996; Barnard Archives and Special Collections, Barnard Library, Barnard College. Online finding aid.

Clarissa Sligh Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Online finding aid.

Artists Call Against U.S. Intervention in Central America : PAD/D pamphlet file : miscellaneous uncataloged material, Political Art Documentation & Distribution Archive, Museum of Modern Art Library. Catalog record.

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