Vanessa Beecroft

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Vanessa Beecroft
Vanessa Beecroft
Beecroft in White Madonna with Twins (2006)
Born (1969-04-25) April 25, 1969 (age 53)
Genoa, Italy[1]
NationalityEnglish, Italian
EducationBrera Academy (Milan, Italy)
Known forPerformance, photography, drawing, painting, sculpture
WorksVB performances
MovementRelational art
Spouse(s)Greg Durkin
Federico Spadoni
VB61, Still Death! Darfur Still Deaf? (2007) at the 52nd Venice Biennale

Vanessa Beecroft (born April 25, 1969) is an Italian-born American contemporary performance artist; she also works with photography, video art, sculpture, and painting. Many of her works have made use of professional models, sometimes in large numbers and sometimes naked or nearly so, to stage tableaux vivants.[2] She works in the United States, and is based in Los Angeles as of 2009.[3] Her early work was focused on gender and appeared to be autobiographical; her later work is focused on race.[4] Starting in 2008 she began working with Kanye West on collaborations and commercial projects.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Vanessa Beecroft was born April 25, 1969 in Genoa, Italy[3] and raised in Santa Margherita Ligure and Malcesine near Lake Garda.[4][5] Both of her parents were teachers; she was born to an Italian mother, Maria Luisa and a British father, Andrew Beecroft.[4][6][5] After she was born, her family briefly moved to Holland Park, west London.[5]

Her parents divorced when she was three years old and she did not see her father or her younger brother again until she was 15 years old.[5] Her mother raised Beecroft alone in a village in Italy in a strict vegan household with no cars, no television, and no phone.[5] In childhood, she was hospitalized for overeating specific foods she thought would cleanse her system, and she struggled with an eating disorder.[4][7][8]

From 1988 to 1993 she attended Brera Academy in Milan, Italy.[9][7] Her first art exhibition VB01 (1993) was in a gallery in Milan and featured a performance with other female students from Brera Academy wearing Beecroft's clothing, and sharing Beecroft's "Book of Food", a diary documenting her food consumption from 1985 and 1993.[3][9][10] The "Book of Food" documented Beecroft's bulimic eating habits[11] and was referenced again in her later work, but it was separate from the performances.[12]

She moved to the United States in 1996, at the invitation of art dealer Jeffrey Deitch, settling in New York City.[4][9]


Some common themes in the work include self discipline (of the models), voyeurism, and power relationships.[10] Beecroft's artwork is often performance or installation-based with live human figures, but she also documents the performances with photography and video; this work is in many public museum and art collections including the Art Institute of Chicago,[13] Museum of Modern Art (MoMA),[14] Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía,[15] Österreichische Galerie Belvedere,[16] Van Abbemuseum,[17] amongst others.

VB performances (1993–present)[edit]

Many of the VB performances were documented in the Dave Hickey book VB 08-36: Vanessa Beecroft Performances (2000), and in Emily L. Newman's book Female Body Image in Contemporary Art: Dieting, Eating Disorders, Self-Harm, and Fatness (2018).[18][12]

The performances were titled sequentially.[19] Strict rules were imposed on the models' behavior during the performances; they were instructed not to engage with the audience.[12] Models were uniformed, nude, or barely clothed and were required to stand for hours, often in tall high heels without movement or eye contact.[5] Beecroft always used tall, thin, young models who she referred to as "girls", regardless of their age.[12][10] In later work, Beecroft would use designer accessories or shoes as props for the models.[10]

  • VB02, VB03, VB04, and VB08 took place in 1994 and featured live girl models all dressed in bright red wigs (an exaggerated representation of Beecroft's own hair color) and white underwear.[12] VB08 (1994) performance took place at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, New York, using live female models, pantyhose, and bright red wigs.[18]
  • VB25 (1996) performance took place at Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Netherlands, with seven identical-looking young women wearing fake eyelashes and red nail polish, each dressed in a polo-neck pullover, white underwear, tights, and high heels.[17]
  • VB35: Show (1998) took place at the Guggenheim Museum in New York; twenty women stood in the museum for two hours in a circular arrangement in order to mirror the architecture.[12] Fifteen of the women wore rhinestone-decorated bikinis designed by Tom Ford, and five of the women were nude. This was a larger event than some of her prior work and made international news.[12] Casting was done by Jennifer Starr,[20] and the production was done by Yvonne Force Villareal, and Doreen Remen.[21]
  • VB45 (2004) took place at Terminal 5 of the John F. Kennedy Airport with 36 young women standing in formation in the sunken waiting area, wearing only Afro wigs, black body paint, and silver shackles on their ankles.[22][23][24]
  • VB51 (2002) was her first filmed performance, it took place in Schloss Vinsebeck, Stenheim, Germany.[10] It featured older models in their 60s, including Beecroft's mother, mother-in-law, stepsister, and the actresses Irm Hermann and Hanna Schygulla (both actresses from films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Beecroft's favorite director).[5][10]
  • VB53 (2004) at the Tepidarium in Giardino dell’Orticultura, Florence, Italy, women were staged in a mound of dirt, as if they were plants.[19]
  • VB55 (2005) featured one hundred women standing still in Berlin's Neue Nationalgalerie for three hours, each woman oiled from the waist up and wearing nothing but a pair of pantyhose.[6]
  • VB61, Still Death! Darfur Still Deaf? (2007), one of Beecroft's most politically-engaged performances, was presented the 52nd Venice Biennale.[25] It involved "approximately 30 Sudanese women with their skin painted, lying face-down on a white canvas on the ground, simulating dead bodies piled on top of one another", representing the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.[26]
  • VB65 (March 2009) performance at Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea (PAC) in Milan, Italy, featured a "Last Supper" of twenty African immigrant men, dressed formally in suits (some without shoes), drinking water, eating chicken and brown bread without cutlery.[7]
  • VB66 (2010) took place at Mercato Ittico di Napoli [it] (the fish market), Naples, Italy with fifty living models, staged on a platform amongst a group of cast body sculptures and body parts, all painted black.[27] It highlighted the relationships among body, sculpture, and an iconographical reference to the nearby ruins of Pompeii.[27]
  • VB67 (2010) performance took place at Studio Nicoli in Carrara, Italy, and again a similar reenactment in a year later, VB70: Marmi (2011) at Lia Rumma gallery in Milan.[28] The models were staged near marble sculpture statues and the stone was in various states including polished, rough, and in blocks and slabs.[28]

Other work[edit]

In October 2005, Beecroft staged a three-hour performance on the occasion of the opening of the Louis Vuitton store, "Espace Louis Vuitton" on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.[29] For the same event, Beecroft placed models both black and white on the shelves next to Louis Vuitton bags in a "human alphabet".[30][31] In 2007 the Louis Vuitton company apologized to Dutch graphic designer Anthon Beeke for mimicking his "Naked Ladies Alphabet" design without his consent.[32][33]

In 2018, Beecroft and Kim Kardashian collaborated on a series of nude photos of Kardashian that were displayed on social media for the release of Kardashian's perfume, which had a "Kardashian body-shaped bottle".[34]

Collaborations with Kanye West[edit]

Since 2008, Beecroft has been collaborating on work with artist Kanye West.[34][35] They began working together with a listening party at Ace Gallery, Los Angeles for West's music albums 808s and Heartbreaks. In 2010, Beecroft was named creative lead for the Runaway music video.[35] On the Kanye West music tour, the Yeezus Tour (October 2013 – September 2014), Beecroft designed the sets and choreography.[35] Beecroft worked on West's Spike Jonze directed music video for the 2014 song “Only One”.[34][35] In 2014, Beecroft assembled and built the wedding ceremony of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West .[34]

In February 2015, West embarked on a fashion design career with Yeezy Season 1, under the Adidas label and Beecroft directed the performance presentation.[35] Beecroft went on to work on Yeezy Season 2 (September 2015), Yeezy Season 3 (February 2016), and Yeezy Season 4 (September 2016).[35]

Beecroft alleged she was a full-time employee for West until 2016, when her role changed and she became a part-time contractor.[34]

In 2019, she collaborated with West on two opera-based performances, Nebuchadnezzar and Mary.[36][37]


Her performance work about gender was often critiqued for being a "post-feminist statement about fashion or pandering to a corrupted way of seeing".[11][25] Photographer Collier Schorr noted, "Beecroft is interested in the aesthetics of how women look when they are looked at, and her body-conscious projects encourage alienation between model, artist, and audience."[18] Beecroft's work with live female nude models in performances often uses a specific type of model, one with an Westernized "idealization" of the female body, all of the models appearing uniformly thin, tall, and young.[10] These choices have been criticized as harmful, distorted, and conforming to gender stereotypes.[5][12]

Beecroft has been quoted in an interview in 2016, “I have divided my personality. There is Vanessa Beecroft as a European white female, and then there is Vanessa Beecroft as Kanye, an African-American male.”[38][4][39] Her later work deals with race, and she has made a series of racially insensitive remarks in interviews.[39][40]

Beecroft’s failed attempt to adopt Sudanese twins was the topic of the documentary The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins (2008) by Pietra Brettkelly, which was included in the Sundance Film Festival's World Cinema Documentary Competition.[41] The film presents Beecroft as a "hypocritically self-aware, colossally colonial pomo narcissist" and chronicles her "damaging quotes and appalling behavior" as she attempts to adopt the orphans for use in an art exhibit.[41][42]

Personal life[edit]

Vanessa Beecroft was previously married to marketer Greg Durkin. They lived in Cold Spring Harbor, New York together for many years. The marriage ended in divorce.[when?][4][11] Durkin and Beecroft had two sons together (born in 2001 and 2004).[11] She was then married to photographer Federico Spadoni.[4][38] Beecroft and Spadoni have one daughter and one son together (born 2009 and 2012).[4]



  • Kampwerth, Karin; Thomas, Kellein; Beecroft, Vanessa (2004). Vanessa Beecroft. Kunsthalle Bielefeld. Berlin, Germany: Hatje Cantz Publishers. ISBN 9783775715072.

Exhibition catalogues[edit]

A select list of exhibition catalogues by Beecroft, listed in ascending order by publication year.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Morrill, Rebecca; Wright, Karen; Elderton, Louisa (2019). Great women artists. London: Phaidon Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-0714878775.
  2. ^ Francis Summers. Beecroft, Vanessa. Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (subscription required).
  3. ^ a b c "Featured artist: Vanessa Beecroft". ITSLIQUID. Retrieved 2020-01-04.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Larocca, Amy (2016-08-09). "The Bodies Artist, For Kanye Collaborator Vanessa Beecroft, People Are the Perfect Palette". The Cut. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Johnstone, Nick (2005-03-13). "Interview: Vanessa Beecroft". The Guardian, Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  6. ^ a b Harding, Luke (2005-04-08). "Ruthlessly exposed". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-01-04.
  7. ^ a b c Liu, Jason (2009-03-17). "Vanessa Beecroft VB65 live performance at PAC milan". designboom, architecture & design magazine. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  8. ^ Thurman, Judith (10 March 2003). "The Wolf at the Door". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  9. ^ a b c Povoledo, Elisabetta (2009-03-29). "Vanessa Beecroft's 'VB65' Attempts to Force Spectators to See Africans Differently". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-01-04.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "Vanessa Beecroft |". Flash Art. 2016-11-29. Retrieved 2020-01-05. where you presented a book that listed everything you had eaten between 1985 and 1993, What do they have in common? Height, dimensions, age. And type. Race and provenance too.
  11. ^ a b c d "A Work in Progress". Los Angeles Times. 2008-05-04. Retrieved 2020-01-04. displaying "Book of Food" (also known as "Despair"), a journal that catalogs a bulimic's eating habits
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Newman, Emily L. (2018). Female Body Image in Contemporary Art: Dieting, Eating Disorders, Self-Harm, and Fatness. Routledge. ISBN 9781351859158.
  13. ^ "Vanessa Beecroft". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  14. ^ "Collection: Vanessa Beecroft". The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  15. ^ "Beecroft, Vanessa". Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  16. ^ "Vanessa Beecroft – Künstler – Sammlung Online". (in German). Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  17. ^ a b "VB 25; Performance". Van Abbe Museum. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  18. ^ a b c Hickey, Dave (2000). B 08-36: Vanessa Beecroft Performances. Distributed Art Publishing (DAP). ISBN 9783893229642.
  19. ^ a b "The Very Best of Vanessa Beecroft". The New York Times. 2016-05-19. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  20. ^ "The Force Behind Guggenheim's Nudie Show". Observer. 1998-05-11. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  21. ^ Arikoglu, Lale (2016-03-02). "Go Big or Go Home: Meet Art's Top Three Hottest Fixers". Observer. Retrieved 2021-05-04.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  22. ^ "Port Authority Shuts Art Exhibit in Aftermath of Rowdy Party". The New York Times, Carol Vogel, October 7, 2004. October 7, 2004. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
  23. ^ "A Review of a Show You Cannot See"., Tom Vanderbilt, January 14, 2005. Archived from the original on January 4, 2010.
  24. ^ "Art Exhibition at JFK Airport's TWA Terminal Abruptly Shut Down". Architectural Record, John E. Czarnecki,, October 11, 2004. Archived from the original on January 4, 2010.
  25. ^ a b Dahlberg, Leif (2012). Visualizing Law and Authority: Essays on Legal Aesthetics. Volume 4 of Law & Literature. Walter de Gruyter. p. 150. ISBN 9783110285444.
  26. ^ "Vanessa Beecroft and Pietra Brettkelly |". Flash Art. 2016-12-16. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  27. ^ a b "Beecroft, VB66, 2010-2011". Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina (CCC Strozzina). 2011. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  28. ^ a b "Vanessa Beecroft at Lia Rumma, Milan". 2011. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  29. ^ "Vanessa Beecroft in Paris; Pierre Huyghe Interview; Three Articles on Stolen Art". Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  30. ^ LaBoulbenne, Xavier (2005-10-26). "PARIS À LA MODE". Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  31. ^ Socha, Miles (2006-01-10). "The Female Form". WWD. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  32. ^ "A Fashionable Apology". British Vogue. 2007-11-26. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  33. ^ "Louis Vuitton Steal Naked Ladies Design". November 2007. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  34. ^ a b c d e "Kim Kardashian West Reconciles With Artist Vanessa Beecroft to Launch Her New 'Body' Fragrance". artnet News. 2018-04-25. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  35. ^ a b c d e f "Kanye West and Vanessa Beecroft: the collaboration in 9 moments". Vogue Paris (in French). 15 February 2017. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  36. ^ Woolfe, Zachary (25 November 2019). "Kanye West Is Operatic. His Opera Isn't". The New York Times. Retrieved 2019-12-11.
  37. ^ "Here's What Happened In Kanye West's New Opera Mary". Pitchfork. 9 December 2019. Retrieved 2019-12-11.
  38. ^ a b Munzenrieder, Kyle (August 9, 2019). "Vanessa Beecroft Insults Beyoncé, Basic Concept of Race". W Magazine. Retrieved 2021-08-14.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  39. ^ a b "These racially insensitive remarks by Kanye West collaborator Vanessa Beecroft have the art world talking". Los Angeles Times. 2016-08-12. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  40. ^ Kornhaber, Spencer (2016-08-16). "Marina Abramović, Vanessa Beecroft, and the White Artist's Gaze". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2020-09-25. That quote was just one of many in the article that betrayed an obsession with black peoples' bodies, an obsession that has been a long-running theme in Beecroft's divisive career.
  41. ^ a b "'Art Star' Vanessa Beecroft: Slammed at Sundance". Vulture. Retrieved 2020-01-04.
  42. ^ Glen Helfand (January 23, 2008). "LETTER FROM... More than Movies". ARTINFO. Retrieved 2008-04-24. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

External links[edit]

Media related to Vanessa Beecroft at Wikimedia Commons