b. 1940, Bronx, N.Y.
Vito Acconci was born in 1940 in the Bronx, New York. He earned a BA with a major in literature from Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1962. Two years later, he completed an MFA in writing at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. After returning to New York, he went on to develop a diverse body of work in poetry, criticism, Performance art, sound, film and video, photography, and sculpture.
In the second half of the 1960s, Acconci’s work was centered on poetry and language. In 1969 he began using photography to document various actions, such as jumping, bending, and falling, that he executed in order to understand how his body moved in space. Also in 1969 he performed Following Piece, in which he followed passersby on the street until they entered private spaces. From 1969 to 1974 he continued to explore movement in space, using film and video and adding text panels to his photographs documenting his actions. Some of his performances questioned the nature of gender; other works interjected the private realm into public space. During the 1970 exhibition Information at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, for example, he had his mail forwarded to the museum and went there every day to open it. In Seedbed (1972), he masturbated, he claimed, under a temporary floor at the Sonnabend Gallery in New York, while visitors walked overhead and heard him speaking. In the second half of the 1970s, some of Acconci’s works were comprised solely of his speech on audiotape, and many of his performances forced strangers to interact with one another.
In the late 1970s, Acconci began making sculptures referencing architecture and furniture. From 1980 on, some of his sculptures demanded viewer participation: to complete pieces shaped like simple houses, for example, viewers pulled ropes that erected the four walls. Subsequent works, most installed outdoors, were meant to be sat on or played upon. The scale of Acconci’s sculptures continued to grow, until he was making public art on a grand scale. Since the late 1980s, the artist has worked with Acconci Studio, located in Brooklyn, New York. This collaborative group, which includes designers in addition to Acconci, develops several public artworks and architectural projects annually. On his own and with Acconci Studio, Acconci has produced works for several college campuses and for airports in Philadelphia and San Francisco. Personal Island, designed for Zwolle, the Netherlands (1994), and Island in the Mur, for Graz, Austria (2003), float in bodies of water; the latter includes a theater and a playground.
Acconci has taught at numerous institutions, among them the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, Nova Scotia College of Art & Design in Halifax, San Francisco Art Institute, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, School of Visual Arts in New York, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Yale University in New Haven.
Since his first solo show in 1969, at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Acconci has participated in numerous exhibitions. Retrospectives have been organized by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1978) and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (1980). Print retrospectives have been mounted by Landfall Press in New York (1990) and the Gallery of Art at the University of Missouri in Kansas City (1994). Acconci’s achievements have been recognized with several awards, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1976, 1980, 1983, and 1993), John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1979), and American Academy in Rome (1986). He is also the recipient of the International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award (1997) and two New York City Art Commission Awards for Excellence in Design (1999 and 2004). Acconci lives in Brooklyn, New York.