Artist in Focus: Vanessa Beecroft
What it means to be a performance artist in the fashion industry
Recognising the significance of the body itself gives a shared understanding to contemporary fashion and performance art.
It is within this understanding that Vanessa Beecroft naturally fits into the context of the designed performing body, by which the fashion designer’s vision is experienced, communicated and understood.
“The body in effect is the site for the creation of and communication of meaning, whether that is a narrative, concept, an emotion or character”, says Dr. Jessica Bugg from the Principal Lecturer Research Development of the London College of Fashion.
She adds, “The two disciplines in question both have a temporality, they are a moment whether that be the performance of fashion on the catwalk or the production or performance on the stage, they both rely on human reaction and a wearer or performer both have the ability to question, comment and communicate to audiences through a shared understanding of the body.”
VANESSA BEECROFT is one of the most successful performance artists, known for her large-scale and conceptual performances which are often carried out by nude or semi-clothed women. Well established in the American conceptual art scene, much of Beecroft's work is based on body image, femininity and female psychology, relating to her past personal struggle with an eating disorder.
During the performance, the viewers see dozens of people who appear as each other's replicas. They all resemble each other through either their hair colour or clothes, while they stay motionless and regimented in a position while viewers watch them. These models are centre of the performances, while the sight as a whole resembles aforementioned living paintings. Many of her works have made use of professional models to stage these tableaux vivants.
“The casting is not easy, especially in performances for which there isn’t much time. If I could, I’d handpick the girls who look a bit like paintings, or who have an autobiographical reference”, says Vanessa Beecroft to OLIVIER ZAHM for her interview with PURPLE Magazine.
When a great deal of casting is combined with her certain aesthetic that is able to convey certain speculative political or social issues, Vanessa Beecroft becomes an ideal artist for fashion brands to collaborate with. Issey Miyake, Dolce and Gabbana, Valentino, Prada, Sisley, Tod’s, Helmut Lang and one of her biggest fans, Kanye West, are just some of the names on her portfolio. These extraordinary fashion performances always create a powerful impact on viewers by connecting art, fashion, styling and photography, while pointing out global issues.
Collaboration with HELMUT LANG
Originally created for the Kunsthalle Wien museum, ‘VB45’ is one of the artist’s first collaborations with a fashion label. The artist gathered a group of supermodel-like women standing wearing only thigh-high leather boots designed specially by Helmut Lang. Displaying a homogenous image through rituals of body painting, waxing and hair dyeing, the performance involved women standing until each individual became tired of standing and chose to sit. VB45 continued until the last woman sat down.
Collaboration with LOUIS VUITTON
Vanessa Beecroft: VB LV
At the end of 2006, Louis Vuitton and Vanessa Beecroft came together to work on a performance for the opening of Espace Louis Vuitton Paris, a 4,300-square foot space on top of the Champs-Elysées store. Vanessa Beecroft marked the launch with a special performance in which, as Artforum described it, '30 naked models - black and white - sat silently on shelves alongside classic Louis Vuitton handbags and luggage.'
Charta's book VB LV documents Beecroft's monumental inaugural performance, including the naked ladies bending into the shape of the fashion house’s name. In the end, though, both the fashion house and Vanessa Beecroft had to apologise to graphic designer Anthon Beeke for using his “Naked Ladies Alphabet” without permission, due to great similarities between the two designs.
Collaboration with Valentino
The relationship between fashion and Vanessa Beecroft continues, with a collaboration for the launch of Valentino’s pre-fall Rockstud Untitled line.
Collaboration with Saint Laurent
Saint Laurent’s highly memorable Spring-Summer 2019 runway show does not only bear the signature of designer Anthony Vaccarello, but also that of Vanessa Beecroft. Taking advantage of the great show setting with the Eiffel Tower infinity pool and palm trees in the background, Vanessa Beecroft creates a performance with the Saint Laurent army at the end of the show. She also presented ‘SELF02’, a large-scale picture of the performance, at Miami’s prestigious Art Basel.
Collaboration with Kanye West
Kanye and Vanessa first joined forces in 2008 for his album release, after the artist was asked to present her artworks at Kanye’s wedding, but the duo really sparked with the Yeezy runway shows; first of all Season 2, in which various models premiered Kanye’s nude collection, and then Season 3 right after.
Collaboration with Valentino for Vogue Ukraine
Vanessa Beecroft, alongside creative director of Vogue Ukraine, Olga Yanul, worked on Vogue Ukraine’s August 2015 cover story with Italian fashion house Valentino.