In the last ten years, the Italian artist Vanessa Beecroft has gained renown for her radically innovative performance art, which she has presented in museums and galleries around the world. Her work typically involves a staged confrontation between beautiful female models, usually in the nude, and the spectator. To date, she has created fifty-two performances, numbered consecutively, which she conceives of as an extended single work.
In her early work, Beecroft focused on food and on eating disorders. Over the years, she has expanded this obsession with the body into an exploration of such contemporary concerns as beauty, race, sexuality and identity. The violence of the culture of the image is a central theme. In her earlier performances, Beecroft recruited non-professionals for her events and used clothing, often monochromatic, to create a strong visual and formal impact. As her focus shifted to broader interrogations of identity, she turned more and more to professional models, with a greater emphasis on hair styling and makeup. The body itself has become her canvas: her nude models are made up so as to emphasize specific pictorial qualities, as in the performance pictured here.
The first retrospective of Beecroft’s work is on exhibit at the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art in Turin, Italy, through January 25, 2004. The show retraces the fundamental stages of Beecroft’s development through photographs, video projections and installations created specifically for the exhibition. The accompanying catalogue, Vanessa Beecroft. Performances 1993-2003, includes critical text from the retrospective’s curator, Marcella Beccaria, and a detailed bio-bibliographic appendix.
Vanessa Beecroft on her fiftieth performance (pictured above):
“Invited to see the location—designed by Oscar Niemeyer—for the São Paulo Bienal, I found the answer to the perplexity I had felt regarding the realisation of a piece in Brazil. All I knew of the country, apart from Brasilia and the architecture, was that beautiful models come from there and that there is an obsession with physical perfection. I was told by the curators and by the sponsor that races are mixed and that there is therefore no racism. After watching a movie that the curator had passed on to me—Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus, 1959)—and having taken several walks with my newborn son, Dean, in the Parco Ibirapuera, I decided that the population I wanted to represent was the one selling peanuts in the park, not the one visible in magazines. I had extreme difficulty in obtaining models of that type and I had to paint some white girls black in order to achieve my aim. For this reason I lost the sponsor’s approval. I then selected pink ballet shoes with black laces by Azzedine Alaia: high heels for the tall girls, medium for the average, and low heels for the short. The large hall of the Niemeyer building held fifty girls and was like a ballroom in the jungle. The girls were painted in three mud-coloured shades: dark, medium and yellow. . . . The German director of the Bienal compared this work to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899).”
—Vanessa Beecroft. Performances 1993-2003 (Skira, 2003)