Vito Acconci, distinguished lecturer and internationally renowned artist, died April 28 leaving his wife Maria and a host of adoring students and grief stricken colleagues at Brooklyn College. A committed teacher, brilliant thinker and maverick artist he will be greatly missed.
Acconci grew to prominence in the late sixties and early seventies with a host of ground-breaking performances and videos many of which were on display at his 2016 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art’s PS 1 location and are regularly on view at that museum’s Manhattan location. Born in the Bronx of Italian Catholic parents of modest means, he often reminisced about his father who instilled in him a love of opera and the arts. Acconci began as a poet earning an MFA from the graduate writing program at the University of Iowa in 1964. Always at the forefront of experimental practices, he and his colleague, Bernadette Mayer, published one of the early mimeographed magazines, 0 TO 9, from 1967-69. His poetic experiments addressed the materiality of words themselves. The space of the poem transformed into a performative arena when he placed letters on the floor and interacted with them. He moved artistically from performative poetry to performance art to performative architecture gaining prominence in all these areas. During his years at Brooklyn he ran an architecture and design firm located in Dumbo which he and his wife called Acconci Studio. He was famous for opening its doors and sharing his extensive archives with his MFA students at Brooklyn. His passion for design was legion and his innovative work earned him the 2012 Designer of the Year award at Miami Art Basel.
Klaus Biesenbach, the director of PS1, summed up his accomplishments as follows: “He is one of the most influential artists of his time because of the way he connects the private with the public sphere, the body with the street, the media space with the personal space.” We in the art department remember as well his wry humor. Our Acconci summed it up in 1975, “I am a guerilla fighter, not an artist. This is not a show but a hit-and-run attack. That isn’t a gallery, it’s a combat zone…” He later countered with a twinkle, “I loved the idea of being a guerilla fighter, but I don’t think I ever was one!” But he was a courageous fighter his entire life for the most controversial and cutting-edged art of his day.
Associate Professor of Art History, Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center, CUNY
Additional writing on Vito Acconci:
Learning from Vito Acconci by Jennifer McCoy for Hyperallergic