Vito Acconci - 20th Century & Contemporary Art: Online Auction New York Monday, July 17, 2023 | Phillips
  • Vito Acconci is one of the most famous American performance artists of the 20th century. A pioneer of the genre, Acconci influenced the scope of conceptual art in ways that remain evident today. While he began his creative career as a poet, he later ventured into performance art, creating boundary-pushing events that examined theoretical, philosophical and moral structures inherent to the human condition in modern life.


    His most infamous work, titled Seedbed, challenged the accepted notions of space in regards to art as well as the boundary between public and private. The work took place over the course of three weeks in January of 1972 at Sonnabend Gallery in New York. For the performance, a ramp spanning the width of the gallery space was constructed. While viewers would walk around the gallery, Acconci hid below the boards of the ramp, masturbating and narrating his fantasies through a loudspeaker. The artist would base these fantasies around the physical presence of viewers, calling attention to their footsteps or position within the room.


    Artwork: © Estate of Vito Acconci / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    The present lot is Acconci’s written description of the work, delineating the process and goal while elaborating the wordplay of the title. The five works, consisting of white crayon on black paper, were displayed on the walls of Sonnabend Gallery during the performance. The descriptions outline the collaborative nature of the work between artist and spectators, with Acconci referring to viewers as his “aids” in a “joint result”.


    Artwork: © Estate of Vito Acconci / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    While spectators could not see the artist, his narration and texts made it clear that they not only shared the space with him, but that their presence helped him execute the work. This subverted the conventional relationship between viewers and artists in the context of performance art at the time, in which spectators remained onlookers as the artist’s physical movements constituted the performance aspect. In Seedbed, both artist and viewer were participants in the work, establishing an intimate link between the two, despite being physically separated.


    Acconci’s innovative destabilization of the audience/artist dynamic greatly influenced the course of performance art, inspiring future artists to explore the boundaries of this relationship. Perhaps the greatest testament to Seedbed’s legacy was Marina Abramovic’s recreation of the work as part of her Seven Easy Pieces at the Guggenheim Museum in 2005.

    • Exhibited

      New York, Sonnabend Gallery, Seedbed, January 15–29, 1972



each numbered, signed "Vito Acconci" on the reverse of one sheet
pastel on paper, in 5 parts
each sheet 20 x 26 1/4 in. (50.8 x 66.7 cm), installation dimensions variable
Executed in 1972.

Full Cataloguing

$25,000 - 35,000 

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20th Century & Contemporary Art: Online Auction

17 - 26 July 2023