Vito Longa


Left: Vito Acconci in conversation with Jeroen Boomgaard. Right: Artist Rezi van Lankveld and gallerist Juliette Jongma.

It all started Thursday night on the eleventh floor of POST CS, the Stedelijk Museum’s temporary home in Amsterdam’s former post office building, where Vito Acconci was giving a talk in conjunction with his—I should say their, since technically it’s the Vito Hannibal Acconci Studio—retrospective, opening the next day.

But before that, at 7:30, W139, an alternative gallery space also taking temporary shelter in the POST CS building (albeit in the less glamorous basement) was launching a series of books, short monographs on recently graduated art students. They were running late as usual, in their laid-back, alternative-space kind of way. By 7:45 none of the scheduled speeches had commenced. Most days I’m happy to linger, but this time I just wanted them to get on with it so I could follow the buzz echoing through the hallways: Vito, Vito, Vito…. I discreetly bailed at 7:55 and headed upstairs to the “auditorium” (a rather official term for what was really just one half of the eleventh floor, the other half being taken up by the restaurant and hangout spot sensibly named Club 11). Most of the front row was marked “reserved,” something new in Amsterdam. Evidently it meant that some bona-fide VIPs were in our midst. Feeling deserving, I sat down in the hallowed row, next to Corinne Diserens, curator of the show, which was initiated by the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) and co-organized by the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes. She was next to Barbara Gladstone. Behind us, the auditorium was packed, proof that we Amsterdam residents crave not only stardom (though every true down-to-earth Dutch citizen will deny this) but also intellectual stimulation … and that perhaps we’re not getting enough of either.

Acconci spoke with Professor Jeroen Boomgaard from the University of Amsterdam for a full knee-drumming, foot-tapping hour about his practice, moving chronologically (like the show itself). He began, as he did the last time I saw him talk—in Miami four years ago (but who’s counting?)—by discussing how he started as a writer, not an artist. “I became obsessed with the page, with the page’s sense of space. Choosing a word became impossible—any word referring to anything outside the page was wrong. Only direct references were possible, words like ‘there’ and ‘here’.” And from the middle of the page he moved to the edges and then to the corners and then right off of it onto the street, entering the art context through the back door, in order to defy, as he put it, the “Do Not Touch the Artwork” signs, which to him “seemed immoral, as though art was more valuable than people.” Asked to participate in the “Street Works IV” show in 1969, he came up with the infamous Following Piece. At this point in the talk he dropped a bombshell, revealing (for the first time, as far as I know) that the legendary photos of this work, of Vito apparently following different people in the street are—brace yourself—staged. He never had pictures taken during the actual following. In fact, it was really because of gallerists that he started to make documentation at all, the kind of documentation that could be sold for as much as a painting. Instead he believes that documentation should be just that, documentation: Cheap, free for all, unlimited. I looked over two seats.

Left: Stedelijk Museum curator Maarten Bertreux with gallerist Waling Boers. Right: Artist Yang Fudong, an interpreter, and Stedelijk Museum director Gijs van Tuyl.

“Isn’t he divine?” Gladstone smiled to Eva Presenhuber, who came to say hello after the lecture. One young American artist could only agree, practically drooling as she opined, “I could fall in love with him, even though he’s three times my age. The way he talks, his passion, I hung on every word.”

The opening the next day was fine. Just fine. A bit quiet. The museum’s newish director, Gijs van Tuyl (brought in to put the museum back on the art world map, for God’s sake!) asked me, “Where are all the people of your generation?” Downstairs in the basement, I thought, drinking and smoking and probably dancing by now. “We have to make this museum young again, get the young people back to the museum. Wake it up and shake it up. This is a small town and it needs more….”

More indeed. Steve McQueen (one of Holland’s most prominent artists, though not Dutch) and Bartomeo Mari (MACBA’s chief curator and former director—pre-Catherine David—of Witte de With in Rotterdam), apparently weren’t enough for a proper celeb attendance score. Was everyone packing for the “EindhovenIstanbul” opening—a pendant to the Istanbul Biennial—at the Van Abbemuseum the next night? Probably the biggest and most welcome news spinning around the Becks bottles was Nicolaus Schaffhausen’s appointment as new director of Witte de With. Maybe soon we’ll meet everyone there. Though not a basement, I hear it’ll be swinging.