Vanessa Beecroft

By Schwabsky, Barry | Artforum International, November 2000 | Go to article overview

Vanessa Beecroft


Schwabsky, Barry, Artforum International


DEITCH PROJECTS

The creepily lifelike sculptures of photo-realists like Duane Hanson or John De Andrea permit prurient curiosity: You're allowed to stare, to note bodily imperfections (and perfections) in a way that would seem impermissible in the presence of live subjects. Vanessa Beecroft's performances, on the other hand, invite us to gawk at living, breathing men and women, human statues of a sort, who stand still and submit to viewers' stares without returning them. At the Guggenheim in 1998, Beecroft set up rows of fashion models clad in not much more than impressively high heels, and while such an event may have been calculated to draw the attention of an art community deeply envious of fashion's aura of glamour and sexiness, the choice of subjects also made the project's reflexive nature as perspicuous as possible. Modeling is all about representation, particularly self-representation; in that sense models are already almost sculpture, as attested by the word "mannequin" applying to both a human and an artificial fig ure. Recently, however, Beecroft has been using a different sort of human material; members of the United States Navy. Despite the clear contrasts with her earlier work--female versus male, private versus public, seduction versus force, and so on--an unexpected continuity emerges, for although military personnel are not normally considered in terms of appearance, the disciplined stylization of every detail of their carriage, dress, and demeanor attests to a certain essential representational aspect. To be a sailor, you have to look like one.

This exhibition consisted of photographs from Beecroft's projects involving the navy at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, last year, and the Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum, New York, in April. These are hardly documentary images. Anyone who attended the event aboard the Intrepid knows it was a fiasco; inclement weather forced the performance to be relocated from the deck to the interior. …

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