Multi-talented artist and all around “mensch” Vito Acconci (1940-2017) died recently. His loss is devastating for anyone interested in expanding concepts of art and public space. Vito spent most of his career trying to improve the ordinary places we inhabit and forcing us to acknowledge that these can be artful, playful, and unpredictable events in our everyday lives. Most importantly, he said that space only makes sense if it is inhabited.
Many of the obituaries for Vito have stressed his innovative and often outrageous performance art. For people of my generation – those of us who “came of age” on art in the late 1960s and early 1970s- it is easy to say that he is remembered for his shocking “Seedbed” at the Sonnabend Gallery (1972). Underlying these antics, however, was a firm belief that we can’t distinguish between public and private venues and that art can be found anywhere, not just in rarified museums. Vito understood his debt to the slightly older artists of Happenings of the early 1960s and he invigorated their restlessness for a generation that was contending with the Vietnam War and the societal upheavals of the late 1960s.