Santiago de Compostela

Vito Acconci

Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea

Some of the most exciting discussions in contemporary art that arose during the ’80s and ’90s, especially on the American scene, involved the relationship between art and public life. It has become almost a given that art must be continually reconceived if it is to generate real dialogue. Vito Acconci is one of the few artists who have consistently striven to achieve this effect. Both his discrete pieces, which often solicit the viewer’s participation, and his site-specific urban projects, which are intended to produce new perspectives by altering urban spaces, constitute some of the best contemporary efforts to initiate a critical engagement between the spectator and the work of art.

Acconci’s recent solo show displayed good examples of both categories of work. Resembling one of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions, Acconci’s The city that comes down from the sky, 1982, (whose title alone bears witness to the artist’s utopian ideals) was an interactive piece; in sitting down, the viewer triggered a flightlike movement. The best examples of the projects that invoke the public’s participation on a wider scale, however, were installed directly on the museum’s facade. Consisting of a playful utopian park and dwelling entitled Park up a building, 1996, and House up a building, 1996, these pieces scaled the sides of the museum; with a single gesture these magnificent installations suggest museums without walls that create spaces for play and social interaction. As it happened, in addition to the visitors to the museum, the children who live in the area were continually climbing up and down.

Although it may seem that the past inevitably colors the hopes that one brings to this type of interactive urban installation—predisposing one to think that Acconci’s project functions more as pure entertainment than as a source of new dialogue—the strength of these two installations lies perhaps in their having created a poetic engagement with the site. They resist assimilation, yet never hold out the false promise of utopia.

José Luis Brea

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent Martin.