In honor of MoMA PS1’s show “Vito Acconci: Where Are We Now (Who Are We Anyway?), 1976,” which looks at the first few years of the performance and video artist’s career, we turn back to 1972, when Acconci had one of his most famous shows, at Sonnabend Gallery in New York. At that exhibition, Acconci debuted Seed Bed, a performance in which he lay under a sloped floor he built in the gallery and masturbated to the thought of visitors above him. Below is April Kingsley’s review of the Sonnabend show. Last month, Phyllis Tuchman interviewed Acconci for these pages.
“Reviews and Previews”
By April Kingsley
Vito Acconci’s disturbing exhibition was comprised of distinct performance situations and a film showing past performances. In Room A (Seed Bed) Acconci lay hidden beneath a room-sized, slanting plywood false-floor intoning words of love to the women walking over him, masturbating and moaning into a microphone. As a result the speaker became the focus of attention, while the false-floor functioned as a separation/protection device and as a metaphor for Acconci’s sexual fantasies. On one wall, white words on black panels poetically elucidated the nature of his activity for the viewer (as they did in the other performance rooms). While the activity in room A explored some aspects of sex—concentration, fantasy, exclusion, inclusion, shame, regression—room B was concerned with hate and fear, savagery, domination and resentment expressed through others while Acconci remained the passive object of these emotions. Room C involved the willing viewer-participant with the artist in an investigation of a whole range of emotions between the two poles of love and hate. Acconci, like many modern poets, uses the spoken word, the context and the physicality of his presence in tandem with intense psychological pressures to generate and structure a host of emotions in his viewer-listener. His work raises numerous questions about the nature of art: What is the expressive effect of the medium? What is its informational content? How intimate or self-revelatory can art be, and still be art and not life? Is all art a mirage, temporal, elusive and finally existing only in vague memories? Acconci’s work is not pure poetry: it involves theatre, encounter, sculpture, collage and drawing.
A version of this story originally appeared in the March 1972 issue of ARTnews on page 8 under the title “Reviews and Previews.”