new-york

Vito Acconci

Barbara Gladstone Gallery

“For Otto Titzling had found his quest ,/to lift and shape the female breast,/to point the small ones to the sky/and keep the big ones high and dry,” sings Bette Midler on her album Mud Will Be Flung Tonight!

Mammoth plaster, canvas, and steel-cable reinforced structures, Vito Acconci’s four Adjustable Wall Bra pieces, 1990–91, spanned the gallery with the sensual grace of a garment flung across the room to land half on the floor, half against the wall, bent, twisted and possibly still warm. Acconci has long challenged the artist’s relation to himself, the space of the gallery, and his audience; with the adjustable wall bras (fitted with lights, integrated sound, video, and seating), he simultaneously synthesizes these concerns and returns to the personal, the sexual, and the taboo. By combining his concerns with the body and with the home in a piece that, in effect, creates a home for the body, Acconci expands on the plethora of connotations the brassiere has accrued over the years, as it has been reinvented in tandem with shifts in society’s attitudes toward women’s bodies. The construction of the brassiere on such a monumental scale distorts the viewer’s connection to the object to hysterical proportions, allowing for a reenactment of the childhood moment of discovery when one first sees the object as an abstraction; senses that it is something unmentionable and private, concealing a larger mystery (sex); and then, at the moment of recognition, is welcomed into the larger adult world. Just as filial piety expanded equals patriotism, the fetish object extended becomes totemic. Over the years Acconci has tapped into our unconscious thoughts and desires, presenting them in a manner that is forthright yet minimal enough to allow the viewer to invest the object with his own desire. While some of his recent public art projects have lacked the passion and multilayered double entendre of previous work, with the adjustable wall bras Acconci joyously rediscovers himself. (Also included here were models for the outdoor “adjustable ground bras,” public art park proposals, providing shelter, seating, and walkways.)

Testaments to the history of underwear—or is it underwire?—construction that wittily animate the sculptural tension between form and function, Acconci’s bras are built to last. The outer, white plaster shells are smooth and cool like broken halves of eggshells. Light radiates from within, throwing off a generous glow; like a spaceship from a more liberated planet, the bras draw the viewer in. The interior canvas seats (cups) pulse with music or with the sound of a woman breathing. On a recent afternoon, I snuggled into one, watched cartoons on the monitor and thought, “This is the life.” This would be the life, if only the cups had more padding. But even the discomfort is in keeping with Acconci’s dialectic. Of course the seats are not comfortable; why would they be? Who ever heard of a comfy brassiere, a comfortable house, or a comfortable life for that matter?

A. M. Homes