Vanessa Beecroft reveals all

VB64 is the artist’s first public performance in New York for nine years

Vanessa Beecroft’s work combines classical Italian tradition, radical performance art and fashion show theatrics. On Friday, the 39-year-old artist presents VB64, her first public performance in New York since 2000.

The presentation brings together 13 new wax and gesso sculptures cast from live models, lying on coffin-like bases, beside 20 live naked female models in white body make-up. Beecroft’s women are meant to be virtually indistinguishable from the sculpted casts. Rap star Kanye West, with whom Beecroft collaborated last year on a performance to launch his new album “808s & Heartbreak”, will produce the film of the event. The sculptures, along with the video of the performance, go on view at Deitch Studios from Saturday (until 12 April).

The Art Newspaper: VB64 appears to be situated on a burial ground or alternatively in an art museum. Is this your intention?

Vanessa Beecroft: Visually my references are Palermo and Athens’ museums, a series of portrait busts in Naples, and sculptures at the Accademia [in Florence], as well as burial places where you find tombs.

TAN: Is it true that you began using live women in your art because you were unable to faithfully reproduce women through painting or drawing? Why is realism such an important aspect of your work?

VB: A drawing is pretty, but I feel removed from it. I couldn’t reproduce the mixture of beauty, melancholy, discomfort, flesh and idealisation, which was too complex to reproduce. When I began using real girls it became destabilising for me and the viewer. No matter where you come from, people have an extreme reaction to the performance of live naked women whether it is affection, fear, anger, etc.

TAN: You have said that the women in your performances are self-portraits. What role does autobiography play in this piece?

VB: I identify with the girls, being hard and desensitised, and eventually resurrecting. What I like about the sculpture is that it is impenetrable: you cannot access or possess her.

TAN: You don’t seem to mind having your life on view for all to see. You talk openly about your troubled marriage and your struggle with exercise bulimia. Do you ever feel over-exposed and vulnerable?

VB: My husband and I are now divorced, and I’m very sorry about that. I was obsessed with having another child, and I am with a new boyfriend and five months pregnant, and I feel relieved. So I identify with these sculptures because somehow I love, but I cannot give everything, because I create a barrier. Inside I feel very much like one of the gesso sculptures because the more I suffer the more walls I build up.

TAN: Why do you call the women in your performances girls?

VB: The women I select are always androgynous. I’ve been calling them girls ever since I started, even though some of the women I use are in their 40s. I never liked the change in my own body into a woman and they represent the time before womanhood.

TAN: You collaborated with Kanye West last year on his listening party for his album “808s & Heartbreak”? How did you meet?

VB: I was doing a fast in the desert when he contacted me and I decided to meet him in Los Angeles. I was impressed because he is very genuine, down-to-earth and he is surrounded by an exciting world of rappers. He seems very knowledgeable about art, is a perfectionist and was very professional and visually-oriented. The project was completed in one week.

TAN: What role does he play with this project?

VB: This project was coming in over budget and films are difficult to sell. The film, however, is very important for me, so I approached Kanye, and since I produced the performance for his album for no fee, he generously agreed to produce the film in exchange for some art.

TAN: What has happened with your recently filmed documentary in Sicily?

VB: When I was in Sicily to create the sculptures for VB64 I became impressed with the contemporary migration of African immigrants. Having been to Sudan and seeing how people want to escape, I began to wonder what our world has to offer them. The 20-minute documentary is called “O”, a reference to the Greek tragedy, The Oresteia, and it will be shown together with a performance with illegal immigrants dressed in tuxedos next year in Milan.

Vanessa Beecroft’s VB64 will be on show at Deitch Projects, 4-40 44th Drive, Long Island City. Opening hours on 7-8 March, 2pm-8pm. The performance will take place on 6 March from 7pm–10pm.

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