New York

Vito Acconci

Nature Morte Gallery

For two decades Vito Acconci has been on the cutting edge of artistic experimentation and innovation while consistently addressing questions about the membranes of art and architecture. His productions have been abundantly varied, yet they have manifested a progressive, processional evolution: Acconci permits incremental discoveries and new information to inform each successive work. In the past several years he has created furniture and architecture that invite and in fact require active manipulation by his audience. The spectator must perform an action to assemble the work, and to realize its multidimensional quality. In the two pieces of furniture shown here active manipulation is not required, but absolute involvement is: each piece must be crawled on and within, and the temptation to do so is irresistible. These pieces are bold and bizarre, testing conventional boundaries of expectation, and confirming yet again that like a bellwether Acconci leads rather than follows.

Both pieces begin with the tackiest of materials, reflective Mylar and thick-pile carpeting, respectively; both end with purpose and wit. Stretched Facade, 1984, is an 8-foot-high vertical form like an amoeboid face, at once still and seemingly bursting with the potential to slither across the floor. Three apertures in the piece accommodate seating areas; the Mylar surfaces inside these niches are highly reflective, and undulations pull and compress the mirror images into subtle distortions. A large alcove in red vinyl is cut out of the base, and two other seats cut into the sides, in blue and black vinyl, can be reached by clambering up five footholds. Once in these upper seats, the participant is surrounded on three sides by reflections; on the fourth side is an eye-shaped window. The piece is magnetic, offering comfort, security, and ambiguity. The trio of perches is an ensemble of private nooks; an occupant of any seat need have no sensation of the existence or circumstance of the other alcoves. This seating for three offers isolation instead of conviviality. It is a contemporary expression of troglodytism in furniture.

Sleeping Dog Couch, 1984, doesn’t provoke questions about isolation and public exchange as emphatically; it is kitsch reinterpreted with sophistication and content. The piece is shaped in the form of a sleeping or crouching dog. The entire form slopes up to the back so that the plan is clearly decipherable. The sides rise 3 feet, creating a platform in which seating niches are sunk; this great hulk is covered with woolly gray carpet, while the seats in the head and belly are red leather. In the space between the tail and haunch three steps rise to the top of the piece. The work has something both atavistic and childlike about it as it alternately delights and shocks.

Acconci is exploring furniture and inserting content into it via a course that subverts good taste and convention. These lumbering, woolly, and reflective forms possess an animism. Their size alone is provocative; they came close to filling the confined space of this gallery. Both tacky and scaleless, they seem to criticize the facile furniture design that has become an outlet for many artists and designers. Furniture is significant not only because all such artifacts mean something but because it is a commodity and a dimension of environment that we all have some power to manipulate through selection and arrangement. Acconci examines and attenuates content with lucidity and customary brashness. In these recent pieces, which provoke both amusement and reflection, he asks incisively for our actions and thoughts.

Patricia C. Phillips