Retrospective

From the Archives: Three Reviews by Vito Acconci, from 1968 and 1969

Installation view of “Vito Acconci: Where Are We Now (Who Are We Anyway?), 1976,” 2016, MoMA PS1. PABLO ENRIQUEZ/COURTESY ACCONCI STUDIO AND MOMA PS1

Installation view of “Vito Acconci: Where Are We Now (Who Are We Anyway?), 1976,” 2016, MoMA PS1.

PABLO ENRIQUEZ/COURTESY ACCONCI STUDIO AND MOMA PS1

Before he went on to create some of the most important works in the history of performance and video art, Vito Acconci, who died last week at 77, was a critic at this magazine. Between November 1968 and December 1970, the artist, then writing under the byline Vito H. Acconci, wrote a few reviews for every issue. (Contrary to what one might assume for Acconci, whose performances and videos included painful and occasionally disturbing durational gestures, he wrote mainly about painting and sculpture.) Republished below are three of Acconci’s reviews, among them a small piece about Haim Steinbach’s debut solo show, which featured abstract paintings quite unlike the assemblages of mass-made objects that made him famous. —Alex Greenberger

“Reviews and Previews”
By Vito H. Acconci
November 1968

Sylvia Sleigh [Hemingway; Nov. 10-30] positions her figures so that the frontality of the picture plane is declared, the canvas is seen head-on. Three fence rails cut one painting nearly in half; against the fence lean two figures: they are set against a backdrop of shrubbery—the brightest colors in the picture. The frontality achieves the possibility of unimpeded recession, the unshackling of color; but this is limited, on one side by a wall and, on the other, by the neighboring buildings: the windows and walls reiterate the horizontals of the fence and, in turn, the top and bottom edges of the canvas. Other paintings consist of three panels: here the emphasis placed on the center panel—by the face-front gaze at the female figure, the brightness of the furnishing, a pink-stockinged knee, all of which act as windows through which one looks at what is behind—is moderated by the side-views in the adjacent panels. Because the three panels are read as a whole, the picture plane is closed off. Also, a change of detail from one panel to the next introduces the notion of time, subverting any illusion of infinite space.

“Reviews and Previews”
By Vito H. Acconci
January 1969

Julian Stanczak’s [Jackson] interest in optical illusions was again evident in works whose signature is a field of thin vertical bands in alternating colors. Every other band is a strip of tape, a technique which begins the play of illusions, of shifting light. This “bounce” is furthered by the basic shapes depicted—circles or, more usually, what looks like an intricately folded sheet of paper—and by the different widths of the bands (a treatment of literal space that announces, by means of a bulging effect, the vantage point for the viewer). Though the bands provide just as much displacement as the shapes, the viewer knows they are bands and thus can see them as measured fixities that support the shimmer. The most interesting works are those in which the alterations of light and shape consider the wall and the space in front of the painting; for example, Unashamed of Change 1, 2, 3: three canvases, each placed farther from the wall than the one before, present three graded values for a shape that remains apparently the same (except that the flicker of the bands makes the shapes go by too fast to be sure).

“Reviews and Previews”
By Vito H. Acconci
February 1969

Haim Steinbach’s [Panoras; Feb. 24-March 8] washes are concerned with eye-movement across and into space. In one group, there is a push amid crowded strokes; in the other, a jump from free circle to dot to occasional streak on a white ground.

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