Vanessa Beecroft: the praise of vision between fas...

Vanessa Beecroft: the praise of vision between fashion and sacrality

Born in 1969. Italian and naturalized in the United States. She is a painter, sculptor, designer, passionate about cinema and photography. She is a visionary of performances, often called “tableau vivant”. Active in the field of visual arts on an international level, since the 90s, Vanessa Beecroft is among the first female artists to have come into contact with the big fashion brands from which she has, in part, borrowed that idea of femininity, devoid of roundness and faithful to a marked, androgynous, repetitive and sacred verticality.

Vanessa Beecroft, VB26, 1997, performance, Galleria Lia Rumma, Naples, Italy, courtesy the artist and  Galleria Lia Rumma © Vanessa Beecroft

The focus from which he looks at the world is the woman but with that sense of figurative composition, dear to Renaissance painting, which the artist reworks in living sculptures that are naked, semi-naked and similar to each other, in a fixity of thought and emotional and visual horizon to show to the public: the real witness. It is precisely this nudity that makes women “serial”, women that she casts for her performances, with a repetitive grammar, belonging to our time and to the media and social media image of an equal, vertical, thin, silent woman. In this way, a vision that can create discomfort and disturbance in the viewer and a real gash, a fracture of time, almost suspended, is created. Meanwhile, there is a precise process behind her visions. Each performance takes the initials of her name, followed by a progressive number supposing one of her working methods: “the VB method” to define the apostrophes of time, the thinness of becoming, the lack of appetite of the female body in this present, between lights and shadows to be delivered to the retinal gaze of the public but above all to the photographic lens which consecrates a certain sacredness.

Vanessa Beecroft, VB26, 1997, performance, Galleria Lia Rumma, Naples, Italy, courtesy the artist and  Galleria Lia Rumma © Vanessa Beecroft

In this way, Beecroft blocks and immortalizes our present, marking the very emptiness of existence with the female epidermis: smooth, illuminated, fixed, coloured. Men are not entirely absent in her performative visions and her first performance with men, conceived for the MAC in Milan, 2009, bears witness to this. This is VB 65 with the drama of the immigration issue at its center, always current, with twenty African immigrants seated around a forty-foot transparent table. They are dressed both in evening gowns and in crumpled and oversized clothes, in the act of eating black bread and meat without cutlery. A very powerful metaphor not only for the visual composition that recalls the idea of the last supper, but also for having given shape to a universal sacredness that does not hide the cruelty of our world; on the contrary, she proposes it again in a bloody, venerable and irreverent way, without a solution.

Vanessa Beecroft, VB52, 2003, performance, Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte, Turin, Italy, courtesy the artist © Vanessa Beecroft

In fact, a visionary artist like her does not propose answers but reflections, deductions, questions, doubts, glimpses of our way of looking, starting from the true body of the women who take part in her compositions, with their demons and fears. Women, often physically similar to Beecroft, who want to represent the other thousand facets of herself in relating and confronting the fashions of the time made up of shoes, boots, tights, hairstyles, wigs, colors, make-up, panties, bras. They are nymphs, demons, divinities, mothers, sisters, daughters, models, symbols, as well as projections of her visionary and directorial mind – and it is no coincidence that Beecroft is a fan of Godard and Rossellini – suspended between a finite instant and an eternal one. Sometimes they wear trendy clothing, still current, such as the white tights we see in the VB 26, 1997, made in the well-known Galleria Lia Rumma in Milan.

Vanessa Beecroft

Vanessa Beecroft, VB52, 2003, performance, Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte, Turin, Italy, courtesy the artist © Vanessa Beecroft

In VB 52, however, they are interpreters of the most sacred and profane act such as the act of eating: a delicate topic in Beecroft’s life and her nutrition, which she defines as “controlled” and with a precise number of calories. It was a particularly eccentric and visionary performance, which took place at the Castello di Rivoli – Turin Art Museum in 2003, linked to an ever-present question to the point where they could be considered universally classic as Italo Calvino would have said. Another example with the performance VB 70, where the women are like colored statues, on marble bases. They move slowly, emphasizing the dichotomy between the skin and the marble, between the immortality of the latter and the earthly precariousness of the epidermis and of the body, illusorily raised to an immortal and marble metaphor even if only for a few moments.

Vanessa Beecroft, VB 65, 2009, PAC Padiglione d’Arte Contemporaea, Milano, courtesy the artist and  PAC Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea © 2009 Vanessa Beecroft

One could also say that her compositions are «naked appearances» as Octavio Paz would say, in a world so steeped in images, noises, click, objects, wars and smoke that we need to start making room for visions again. Visions that cause discomfort so that could lead us into the sphere of the intimate, the personal, the eros, the primordial which functions as a distant, universal “apparition”. Indeed, in front of his living works, the public knows that it is in front of a rare, unique and unrepeatable time because then it will be the photographic image – even more than the video – that will decree its future testimony.

Vanessa Beecroft, VB70, 2011, performance, Galleria Lia Rumma, Milan, Italy, courtesy the artist and  Galleria Lia Rumma © Vanessa Beecroft

In this way, Beecroft made this process of delivery of her visions her own more than thirty years ago with the photographic shot that also condenses that sacred mystery of creation and artistic composition. She has, therefore, created a venous and arterial link with the lens, as an interlude between her and the performance, reality and the public: before social media, before any Iphone and smartphones and before any trending photo application. And she did it, for the first time, in the years in which photography was already considered a defined art and distinct from the visual arts. As a true forerunner, she has been able to anticipate the processes of time and create a modus operandi that freezes time and immortalizes trends – brutal or divine – but with a constant trace of sacredness, with living works that bring us all back to our demons and to the forces of eros.



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