New York

Vito Acconci

The Kitchen and Sonnabend Gallery

Three works by Vito Acconci at the Kitchen are accompanied by a puzzling press release. “Until recently,” it reads, “Acconci’s installations have been built into a space, developing from the particular characteristics of that space. Currently, the installations are more like vehicles passing through a space and stopped by that space, or like devices that can be hooked onto a space.” In these terms, then, it seems that the “cultural space”—one of a sequence of inflections of a neutral concept—is being directed towards transition. Movable Floor is a room covered with immovable roller skates. Four headphones play disco music and a Chilean revolutionary song. Instant House, four flat walls doubling as American flags, occupies the entire floor. By sitting on a swing in the room’s center, one can make them spring up to form a room with Russian flags as the outer walls. When the New Revolution Comes is a rocking chair placed in The Kitchen’s entrance hall, with dangerous waist-high rockers and a flag displaying the title. Mobile Home at Sonnabend is a succession of empty house-shaped units on rails. The last house is supported by bricks and contains a bicycle with a clothesline, a series of red shirts hanging as if holding hands, and a mechanism for extending the units to make one long room. Rooms or houses veer towards communal, even nomadic, uses. Each serves, Acconci writes, as “an instrument of decoration and propaganda,” a claim so nearly paradoxical that it can be read as such. The pieces demonstrate a need to locate some gesture which will outstrip symbolism and allegory—perhaps “propaganda” too, since doing and telling are ultimately distinct. Historical context and individual achievement can become transparent; the significance of Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International may have been indistinguishable from the fabric of motives which were its inspiration. Today, things are different. Instead of making objects about changing political sides, it is tempting to say that Acconci’s political vocation—to adjust society in order to bring about circumstances which will make his works irrelevant—may demand direct action, not art about direct action, a policy of “Politics first, art later.” Disco music may drown out the revolutionary song. The extendable houses lack windows. The hammers and sickles are visible from the outside only. As usual with Acconci, density of interpretation springs up magically when meaning is verbalized. But not before. In terms of visual ideas, these works are not in need of the participation they cry out for but of titles, press releases, interviews, sound tracks and any amount of collaborative language. Somewhere between decoration and propaganda is the conversation piece.

Stuart Morgan