Vito Acconci 1940-2017


Vito Acconci was among the most influential artists of his lifetime. Working fluidly across any and all mediums, Acconci created aesthetic phenomena that shocked, surprised, and amazed the viewing public, often forcing his audiences to react and sometimes participate in the work. Acconci’s tactics challenged the passivity with which people tend to consume art. Deploying incredibly intimate content as well as untraditional materials and forms, he instigated what was often perceived as an adversarial relationship between himself, the viewing public, and the institutional art field.


Acconci made traditional two and three-dimensional art objects, wrote poetry, made films, and designed objects and architecture, but he was most widely known for his performance works, which were designed to provoke members of the public and subvert traditional mores surrounding fine art. Among his most notorious performances was Seedbed (1972), for which he positioned himself beneath a platform and masturbated for eight hours a day for three weeks while members of the public walked over the platform, sharing his fantasies through a loudspeaker the entire time.


As provocative as he was considered to be by many people and institutions, Acconci was, and still is, equally beloved for the mastery and creativity of his far reaching oeuvre. He was highly sought after as a speaker, panelist, and commentator, not only on topics related to visul art but on all aspects of modern life. His work is included in the most important institutional collections in the world, and he is renowned worldwide as an essential part of the 20th century art historical canon. Acconci brilliantly demonstrated the potential artists can unlock when they forego the false limitations put upon them by the market and the public. Aside from the intellectual and aestehtic value of his art, he set a standard for the total freedom of the artist and created a legacy that most artists today simply take for granted—one that takes for granted that artists should be able to express their concerns in any way and in any medium they choose, regardless of whether critics, institutions, or the public understand or appreciate their efforts. Acconci was also influential over generations of younger artists as a teacher at multiple institutions, such as the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Yale University, and the Parsons School of Design. He lived and worked in Brooklyn, NY.