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  • Vanessa Beecroft's VB-35
    (With pre and post histories)

    by Clifford Elgin
  • Born in Italy, 1969, Vanessa Beecroft reached what could be considered the pinnacle of artistic success before turning thirty by having a major spectacle at the Guggenheim in 1998. Her work interests me in that it exists on many levels (post feminism, conceptualism, documentary, and performance). At the same time the possibilities for future growth have been hemmed in by a tunnel vision of rules that narrows her artistic liberty seemingly to the point of becoming redundant. All of which makes her ripe for an analysis of her work and career.

    Fashion photography, feminism, and the notions of young women living in a 'post feminist1' world are major influences upon her work. In my opinion, this performance by Klein had particular bearing on Beecroft's future endeavors.

    On March 9th 1960, Yves Klein used live female nude models as artist's tools in the quite infamous "Monotone Symphony". The primary artworks produced (several canvases which were at the time the focal point of the endeavor), almost became a secondary bi-product of the sensationalism surrounding the event. What ended up being the truly unique aspect of the work was a montage of documented actions caught during the performance. Photographers and film crews capturing every moment added a dimension similar to that of the photographs taken of Jackson Pollock for Life magazine. To the tunes of a classical ensemble, diners participated by feasting on extravagant French cuisine while watching a cutting edge contemporary artist first dip lovely women in blue paint, then drag or drop them atop a canvas. Leaving behind the artist's studio, nude female figures dripping with wet paint were brought into the public sphere. This action augmented the middleman (artist), adding a new sphere in which s/he could roam. Quite a few characteristics pertaining to post modern theory and practice were uncovered during this single evening, but for the sake of this paper it is important to stress two points. First of all, Klein was presenting an immediate space in which the artist worked in real time with the audience. Secondly, Klein documented the happening and with these photographs helped to form a new removed arena with a different set of interpretations.

    The crux of this essay will revolve around images from Beecroft's VB-35, Guggenheim installation/performance. Twenty female models stood in the center of the Guggenheim rotunda for three hours. All of them wore high heels and nudity was optional. If a subject (female model) were modest, a Gucci bikini was provided. Difficult to see in the photograph is a thick layer of body paint, which serves to lessen embarrassment caused by the near or full nakedness of the subjects. Three rules governed the performance:

    1. Do not move
    2. Do not talk
    3. You are encouraged to stare back at the audience

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