Vito Acconci (b. 24 January 1940, d. 27 April 2017) was a New York-based poet, performance artist, and architect, whose artworks and architecture explored, often intimately, the interpersonal limits of public space. Best known for his performance works Following Piece and Seedbed, Acconci began his creative practice as a poet and eventually transitioned to an architecture practice later in his life.
Known to everyone as Vito, Acconci was born in the Bronx, receiving a Catholic education through University, graduating from the College of the Holy Cross in 1962. He continued his education in the first ever class at the famous Iowa Writers Workshop, where he received his MFA in literature and poetry. During his early career, Acconci drifted through the New York poetry scene, eventually morphing his poetry work into performance art. In 1969, he first performed Following Piece, where Acconci would follow random Manhattanites until they entered the first private space that he was legally not allowed to follow into, determining the limits of publicness and a first example of active voyeurism in art. Later, Seedbed planted Acconci firmly into art cannon by his provocative 1971 piece, where he hid beneath a ramp in the Sonnebad gallery masturbating into a microphone. Speakers above played the act's noises as Acconci responded and spoke to viewers above while completely hidden, himself.
In the 80s, Acconci began exploring larger scale sculptures, first through a series of semiotic-ridden sculptures like Insta-House, where moving walls obscure or expose American and Soviet flags. Scale gave way to landscape design with 1984's Face of the Earth, a face built as topography in a public park. Vito stepped firmly into architecture in 1992, when he designed the Storefront for Art and Architecture with Steven Holl, designing a series rotating punctures that could temporarily close or open the tiny gallery space to the outside street. Other built projects from the era include Mobile Linnear City, Park Up a Building, and More Balls for Klapper Hall.
Acconci Studio began designing solely architectural works as the artist became increasingly interested in parametric design in the 2000s and he became architecture faculty at Pratt Institute Graduate Architecture and Urban Design. Project for Corner Plaza and Garbage City were experiments that turned into competition entries, but Island on the Mur was his only built computational project, a warping form that confuses in and out for a cafe sitting on a bridge in the Mur River in Austria. His studio also submitted an entry to the World Trade Center competition, designing a porous building that, to the provocative Acconci, would confuse future terrorists.
Throughout his career, Acconci devoted his craft to different conceptions of public space. Whether the performative act of poetry, pushing the edges of behavior and body in the open, or architecture forms that manipulate public in unforeseen ways, Acconci changed the way the people operate in public.
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