Vito Acconci was born in The Bronx, New York. He graduated with a BA in literature from College of the Holy Cross in 1962 and and an MFA in literature and poetry from the University of Iowa in 1964. After finishing his education, Acconci moved back to New York where he created a diverse collection of work in poetry, criticism, performance art, sound, film and video, photography and sculpture. Acconci is most closely associated with the Body Art movement of the 1960’s and ’70’s, though he later turned more towards installation artist. Around the 1980’s, he switched his focus to public works and landscape design, which he continued to create until his death in 2017.
While Acconci began his career as a poet, he soon turned to visual art after moving back to New York. He decided to explore what is conventional and familiar as a means of demystifying the art world and the process of art-making. In his provocative and subversive Body Art of the 60’s, Acconci employed his own body and language in order to examine the self. His performances were controversial as he was known to bite himself, burn off his own hair, and masturbate as part of his exploration of the relationship between the body and the public environment. Later, Acconci began to create public works of art that are at times functional and often interactive. By increasing the scale of his work, he continued to explore the relationship between the self and setting by integrating public and private space.
Following his first solo show in 1969, at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Acconci participated in numerous exhibitions. Retrospectives have been organized by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1978) and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (1980). Print retrospectives have been mounted by Landfall Press in New York (1990) and the Gallery of Art at the University of Missouri in Kansas City (1994). Acconci’s achievements have been recognized with fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1976, 1980, 1983, and 1993), John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1979), and American Academy in Rome (1986). He also received the International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award (1997) and two New York City Art Commission Awards for Excellence in Design (1999 and 2004). He was a finalist for the Hugo Boss Prize in 2000.