New York

Vito Acconci

Vito Acconci’s interpretation of public art is unique. Beginning with the most mundane of premises, on which he then skillfully layers content that may be interpreted any number of ways, he is able to realize his personal inclinations while satisfying public sensibilities. Acconci’s constructions appear to remain essentially desensitized—not the consequence of self-conscious actions by the artist; he operates as a magician, becoming the interloper between illusion and reality. He also seems to be in absolute control of each situation and the quality of information that is delivered; all possible explanations have been anticipated and are welcomed by the artist.

The two installations in the Grand Lobby of the Brooklyn Museum operated like opposing magnetic fields. Parting of the Ways, 1985, an enormous wooden construction covered in Astroturf, openly invited the public to crawl about on it. (At one viewing it was covered with school children, like a swarm of slightly delirious bees on a honeycomb.) Essentially a raised platform, it was in plan a reclining human figure. A passage at floor level bisected the figure, the left side of which was male and the other female. It read as a complete image but was in fact a jigsaw puzzle of interlocking pieces. Adjacent to this was Acconci’s Bughouse, 1985, a simple, bleacherlike construction of stainless steel, chicken wire, and diamond-plate aluminum. Perched on the floor above an inflated rubber raft, it looked like a huge insect, with enormous eyes, wide-spread wings, a skeletal body, and antennae made of flagpoles. This construction was witty but formidable, quite unlike the Astroturfed playland it faced. The verticality and more demanding physical effort required to climb over Bughouse resisted intervention, but its intricate and amusing form was more visually interesting than the notational shape of Parting of the Ways.

Acconci solicits response through his zany but sobering interpretation of public furnishings. His functional public art brings us a long way from art-on-a pedestal as well as the blandness of the park bench. These constructions may be mundane, but they are not neutral.

Patricia C. Phillips