Vito Acconci’s seminal performances have achieved mythic status in the art world. Today a triple threat as an artist, architect, and poet, Acconci came from a writing background. In the 1960s his poetry became increasingly performative. This interest in combining the structural power of language with performance led to the Conceptual artist’s analogous developments in performance and body art—the body’s own language—which he documented and expanded with film and photography frequently punctuated with text panels. Ileana Sonnabend took the young avant-garde provocateur under her wing in 1971 and ensured for him a nourishing intellectual and aesthetic freedom. Acconci staged three performances in his first solo show with Sonnabend Gallery in 1972. The artist’s pioneering Seedbed, broke down divisions between public and private space and it was the performance that clinched his art world fame. As critic and author James Trainor wrote of Acconci, “If ever there was a time and place in which art-making hummed with personal obsessions gone public, it was around 1970 and wherever Vito Acconci’s body happened to be on any particular day” (J. Trainor, “Vito Acconci,” Frieze, Issue 85, September 2004). In the late 1970s, Acconci began to make sculpture that explored the structural and intimate qualities of architecture and furniture. Often these sculptures would require viewer participation for completion; for example, sitting on a swing or a bicycle could raise or lower the walls of a miniature house. With time, Acconci’s sculptures and installations grew in scale, and he eventually turned to public architecture, forming Acconci Studio with other architects in 1988.
A key member of the Body Art movement in the late ‘60s and ’70s, Vito Acconci radically brought Conceptualism into the space of the body. He tore down divisions between art and life, “took his fixations and gave them rules and forms…appear[ing] to have treated the better part of his waking hours as an ever-unfolding series of orderly Conceptual episodes” (Ibid.). Acconci’s contributions to contemporary art have been honored with numerous prestigious fellowships and awards as well as retrospectives at institutions including the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, and the Barcelona Museu d’Arte Contemporani.