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Originally from Genoa, Italy, Vanessa Beecroft is an Italian artist living here in our backyard. Born to an English father and an Italian mother, she was raised in Italy by her mother, a feminist in her own right. She studied in both Genoa from 1983 to 1988, at the Civico Liceo Artistico Nicolò Barbarino and at the Accademia Linguistica Di Belle Arti, and in Milan from 1988 to 1993 at the Academia Di Belle Arti Di Brera, where she studied and focused on set design. Her work has been exhibited worldwide from Seoul to Los Angeles, and it is recognizable by her tableaux vivants, usually a group of 20-30 girls spaced out in perfect geometric shapes. She made her debut in Los Angeles in 2001 at the famous Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills with the performance VB46, and photographs of her work can also be viewed at the L.A. Museum Of Contemporary Art.
Since the beginning, Beecroft’s art has centralized around food and the female figure, while incorporating elements of Italian classicism. Her first exhibition was at the Galleria Inga-Pinn in Milan in 1993, it was entitled “Film” and built around her own diary Book of Food, in which she used to detail when and what she had eaten in almost ten years. The autobiographical inspiration was also strengthened by the presence of a group of models, loosely resembling her and creating a sort of obsessive self-portrait. The following year she was invited to exhibit at the Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York.
Throughout a career that has spanned some 20 years, Vanessa’s work has always sparked such debate because people are often divided on whether or not her work achieves what it sets out to do. Some have criticized her for using female models, whose bodies are thin and tall and only wearing high heels; while a completely opposite point of view sees her women as empowered and capable of making decisions on their own, as the heels become their own pedestals. Interviewed by art critic and curator Massimiliano Gioni in 2001, she stated: “I’m interested in influencing the public opinion and culture, even if this means to a start a revolution.”
Having connections within the fashion world as well - one of her good friends is the editor of Vogue Italia -, Beecroft’s live performances are often decked with fashion labels such as Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, and Manolo Blahnik. High profile brands and celebrities the likes of Louis Vuitton and Kanye West have collaborated with her to create powerful live images and performances that make the news not only in the art industry. In particular, Vanessa has staged some of West’s runways and was art director of his musical short film Runway (2010).
As food remains Vanessa Beecroft’s primary and most influential subject matter, having struggled with it since adolescence, she revisits its impact on the modern society through her art. An exhibition of photographs and videos will present two of her works, VB52 and VB65, on the occasion of Expo Milan 2015. Both of them are linked to the main theme of this year’s Expo “Feeding the planet, energy for life,” and will be on view until November 1, 2015. It will be part of a larger show entitled “Art & Foods,” which provides a documentation on our relationship with food since the first world Expo in London in 1851, to be showcased at the Triennale Palace in the center of Milan, making it accessible to a large crowd. Not the typical Beecroft tableau vivant, VB52 and VB65 include women and men, respectively, seated at a long table with a feast before their eyes. In the composition of both works, we can see the influence of the Italian Renaissance, of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” reinterpreted by the artist through a modern lens. In the 21st century we are judged for what we look like and what we eat: this is a recurring theme in Vanessa’s art.
The Italian Pavilion will also display one of her latest productions, expressly created for Expo 2015, which is the sculpture entitled “Jennifer statuario.” Molded from the body of Vanessa’s sister and positioned upside down, it will welcome the visitors as juxtaposed to the “Hora” (1st century AD) from Florence’s Uffizi Museum and representing the overthrowing of Classicism. As the artist explained, this work integrates in her performances since 1993 to present, destabilizing and challenging once again the classical ideal of the human – and mainly female – body.