Vanessa Beecroft

Date/place of birth

April 25, 1969, Genoa, Italy

Vanessa Beecroft reinterprets performance art by acting as director in the background and shaping her models, mostly naked and female, into body sculptures. With her human circus, she attracts interested people as well as voyeurs and provokes thoroughly divided reactions - the Italian’s work finds its place between loud applause and no less loud criticism.

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Vanessa Beecroft – A whole stage of naked women

Vanessa Beecroft was born on 25 April 1969 in Genoa. Her father from Great Britain and her mother from Italy, she initially studied architecture in her hometown at the Civico Liceo from 1983 to 1987, the Accademia Ligustica di Belle Arti from 1987 to 1988, and finally in Milan where she took stage design at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera from 1988 to 1993. At this time, she began her spatial installations, and her first performance ‘VB01’ celebrated its premier in Milan in 1993. Even then, she grouped female nude models who had to remain completely still - already eliciting a divided response from critics and the public. Beecroft named her performances simply with her initials followed by a corresponding number and documented them through photographs and films, something she doesn’t always find easy: When viewing the pictures of past performances, she is often overcome by a great sadness and emptiness, the artist revealed in an interview. She prefers it when nothing of her actions remains.

Friendship and collaboration with Kanye West

Vanessa Beecroft has worked not only with acclaimed fashion designers such as Tom Ford and Miuccia Prada, but she also has a special friendly working relationship with Kanye West, who hired her for numerous events and ultimately for his wedding to Kim Kardashian. West wished to use a historic castle for the celebration, and so the party was simply declared an art performance – otherwise it would not have been granted permission. Vanessa Beecroft took care of the creative accents including a table inspired by Jenny Holzer consisting of a huge marble top in which all the names of the invited guests were engraved in gold. Following West’s withdrawal from public, Vanessa Beecroft dedicated herself again to her own projects which increasingly included more classical works, clay and ceramic sculptures, as well as drawings. The artist explained that she is in search of abstraction, and with her sculptures, some of which look strikingly like herself, she is getting much closer to this goal than with her earlier performances. Nevertheless, she does not rule out further actions in the future, also together with Kanye West. 

Recurring controversies about Vanessa Beecroft’s art

Vanessa Beecroft has since incurred the wrath of various activists because she described herself as ‘black’ in an interview and focused more intently on the use of coloured models. The artist herself was deeply affected by these accusations and promised to be more sensitive. But Beecroft is used to controversy: she has often been accused of parading her models in front of a gawking public, of objectifying and exposing her naked women. Beecroft, on the other hand, believes that it is precisely the nakedness that makes her models strong, but also admits to reflecting on this issue in recent years. 

Vanessa Beecroft’s life is centred on Long Island in the US state of New York. She has two sons from her marriage to Greg Durkin.

© Kunsthaus Lempertz