The Department of Digital + Media
Rhode Island School of Design

D+M Visiting Artist Series: Vito Acconci

Vito Acconci was born in 1940, in the Bronx, NY. His family was of Italian descent. His father sewed bathrobes for a living. In his early years, at around 13 or 14, he started to write poetry and short stories. These items he would pass around to his family members to read. The name “Vito” came from his Grandfather, for whom he was named, and who, around the time of his birth, grew extremely ill, and was about to pass on. When Vito was born, his Grandfather did not die as expected, so the family had two Vitos.

Vito grew to despise his Italian heritage. He thought that Italians couldn’t create good art. Eventually, he accepted his heritage, And went on with his life. He would later abandon poetry, for it had too many restrictions. He felt that the parameters were too constrained and rule-bound. He felt that performance art was free of boundaries, and could accept all expression in their raw forms. HIs performace art would eventually shock and absorb its audience all at the same time. His monotone vocal aspects would later reveal that he was totally against any emotion in his particular art form. He felt that emotion was too general a feeling to express in art.

His sense of privatism would envelop his art. At some points, he would massacre his own body to express his art. He would pull at His breasts to try and make them female breasts. He would burn the hair off his chest to express a female chest. He would sit in a pile Of garbage, naked, and dress his penis in doll clothes. He would sit in a dark hallway of a building with a lead pipe and a wrench, blind folded, chanting. One of his most famous works, The Following Piece, would eventually become a staple in Vito’s work. His fondness for John Ford films would make its way into his work.

Acconci is a believer in the home environment. He believes that the home is a place of sanctuary, but it is also a very confined space that will eventually swallow you up unless you break free. His Following Piece, was a piece designed to follow anyone at any time, until they reached a sacred ground such as a private residence.

He would eventually leave performace art and create art that the public could be apart of. He did an art piece that involved welding several cars together. He would invite people to sit inside. He did a piece that was called House up the Wall. 1985. An exhibit that called forth an elaborate set up. Although the construction looked inviting, the actual set up was quite cramped, with small entrances that could only be accessed by crouching. Today, Acconci is still active in the art community, and his work can be seen and interacted with throughout New York.