Sunday, March 29, 2009

Vanessa Beecroft's 'VB65' Attempts to Force Spectators to See Africans Differently

Photo-Vanessa Beecroft
Here is anoher controversial but, quite fascinating artist... Vanessa Beecroft
Some people just don't get her!
Read about it in this NY Times article by Elisabeta Povoledo.

Published: March 29, 2009

These days, the most talked about representation of a ritual repast in Milan is not the “Last Supper” that Leonardo da Vinci painted 510 years ago, but a performance by the conceptual artist Vanessa Beecroft for the city that launched her artistic career.

For “VB65” (Ms. Beecroft numbers her performances sequentially) the artist selected about two dozen African immigrants (some in Italy illegally, others with papers) and posed them along a 12-meter, or 39-foot, table for a three-hour meal during which they languidly munched on roast chicken with their bare hands. The men wore vintage dinner jackets or suits by the designer Martin Margiela, but some were bare-chested, others sans shoes.

“I wanted to force the Milanese bourgeoisie to enter a private space regulated by the statutes of art, that is the museum, and observe people widely seen as the violators of privacy, people that are seen as different,” Ms. Beecroft, 39, said during an interview at the Pavilion of Contemporary Art, or PAC, where the performance took place on March 16. “You need to put something crude on show to provoke a reaction in the public.”

Compared with other European countries, Italy’s immigrants are relative newcomers, and the country’s response to its growing foreign population has been colored by a political agenda that has shifted much of the blame for criminal activity onto immigrants. “There’s widespread diffidence here; I feel it, it’s on the streets,” said Ms. Beecroft, who is Italian.

The performance was a major event for this fashion and design capital accustomed to its fair share of happenings, and hundreds thronged to the museum for a rare chance to see the artist — who photographs the performances — in action.

“It was like a rock concert,” said Giacinto Di Pietrantonio, the show’s curator, who has known Beecroft since her student days at the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera, which she attended during the early 1990s.

Even in art school, “she was provocative and her work focused on society,” Mr. Di Pietrantonio said. Her first exhibit, in a Milanese art gallery in 1993, centered on a diet diary she had kept for a decade and the performance involved other Brera students — some with eating disorders — parading around the so-called “Book of Food.” Three years later she moved to New York (she now lives in Los Angeles) and began working on the ever more extravagant performances — involving usually nude models remaining still for hours — that has defined her work as an artist.

Beecroft courts controversy and contradiction, frequently working with designers even as she critiques our fashion and body-obsessed culture.

Or, in the case of “VB65,” showcasing “our prejudices towards Africans as primitive or savage” because they are eating with their hands, she said, adding that she could not have done this performance in the United States, where the piece might have been taken in the wrong way.

“I feel free to do more exaggerated works in Italy,” she said.

She claims to be tormented, from an ethical point of view, as to whether or not she exploits her subjects.

That issue has been very much in the public domain since the release last year of a documentary by Pietra Brettkelly, “The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins,” that chronicles Beecroft’s unsuccessful attempt to adopt a couple of orphaned babies that she’d breast-fed during a 2006 trip to Sudan. (It’s a long story.) The documentary leaves open the question whether Ms. Beecroft is just another adoption-obsessed celebrity of the Angelina Jolie or Madonna ilk, a postmodern colonialist, or is sincerely concerned about giving the twins a better life.

Although she allowed Ms. Brettkelly to film her for 16 months, Ms. Beecroft has now distanced herself from the film, claiming that it only tells a partial story.

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