Vanessa Beecroft, born April 25, 1969, is an Italian contemporary artist from Genoa living in Los Angeles. The artist’s work is a fusion of conceptual issues and aesthetic concerns, focusing on large-scale performance art, usually involving live female models (often nude). At her performances, video recordings and photographs are made, to be exhibited as documentation of the performances, but also as separate works of art.
The work and her conceptual approach is neither performance nor documentary, but something in between, and closer to Renaissance painting. She sets up a structure for the participants in her live events to create their own ephemeral composition. The performances are existential encounters between models and audience, their shame and their expectations. Each performance is made for a specific location and often references the political, historical, or social associations of the place where it is held. Beecroft’s work is deceptively simple in its execution, provoking questions around identity politics and voyeurism in the complex relationship between viewer, model and context.
Beecroft’s performances have been described as art, fashion, brilliant, terrible, evocative, provocative, disturbing, sexist, and empowering. The primary material in her work is the live female figure, which remains ephemeral, and separate. These women, mainly unclothed, similar, unified through details like hair color, or identical shoes, stand motionless, unapproachable and regimented in the space while viewers watch them. Neither performance nor documentary, Beecroft’s live events are recorded through photography and film, but her conceptual approach is actually closer to painting: she makes contemporary versions of the complex figurative compositions that have challenged painters from the Renaissance onwards. Beecroft’s more recent work has a slightly more theatrical approach; the uniforms are period clothing, not nudity, and some of her performances include food, while others have featured men in military attire.
Beecroft’s first exhibition was VB01, in Milan, 1993, in which she presented a series of drawings along with the past eight years of her Food Diary. The following year she exhibited in New York for the first time, at the Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York. Beecroft’s performances have taken place at many notable art institutions: VB28 at the Venice Biennale in 1997; VB35 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 1998; VB40 at the MCA, Sydney, Australia in 1999; VB43 at the Gagosian Gallery in London in 2000; VB45 at the Vienna Kunsthalle in 2001; VB50 at the São Paulo Bienal, Brazil in 2002; VB52, part of a retrospective show, at the Castello di Rivoli in 2003; VB54 at an exhibit called Terminal 5 at the TWA Flight Center of JFK Airport in 2004, an exhibition that closed abruptly after the building itself was vandalized during an opening party.
Beecroft’s work, specifically VB48, at the Gagosian Gallery in California, has come under fire by feminist artist groups like the Toxic Titties. Beecroft does not acknowledge the time commitment, exertion, and treatment endured by her models, leading critics to question the conceptual ideas put forth in her work.