BlackBook Interview: Pondering Vanessa Beecroft’s Performance Piece of the Kappa Logo
Marking their half century birthday, Italian sportswear brand Kappa tapped Genovese artist Vanessa Beecroft to stage a live performance of their iconic logo at Lot 11, Miami’s newest public skate park (at 348 NW 2nd Street) on the opening day of Art Basel Miami 2019. By collaborating with British author and art curator Neville Wakefield, Beecroft brought the Omini Italian trademark logo of the ’70s to life with 50 different iterations.
“Crosshatching minimalism, performance art, film and fashion,” Wakefield enthused of his collaborator, “Vanessa’s durational performances have always stood out as a form of live portraiture. By animating the iconic Kappa logo, she invites us to explore not just the ever evolving relationship between the individuals – here represented by the Omini couple – but also that of a brand to the world at large.”
On the occasion of this performance, Beecroft – an artist principally known for her tableaux vivants, (“living paintings”), which in the past, have been predominantly performed by women in various states of dress and undress – staged her first live performance featuring both sexes. The performance included 100 street-cast models paired into couples to resemble the Kappa® logo.
BlackBook spoke with the iconic and elusive artist about the meaning of it all.
How did the collaboration with Kappa come about?
I was fond of the original Kappa logo from the ’70s, and my work has never before presented a physical interaction between a man and a woman. It is predominantly female, so this was a chance to see if I could address the relationship. My perception of the relations between two individuals has been nonexistent, so I used Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabrieski Point and La Notte for inspiration. In these films, there is a lost communication between the two parties and we are left with an open ending. While my work is still self-referential, based on a study of the female form, and its position in the physical and spiritual worlds, this performance is an opportunity for me to explore an interaction and new interpretation of a couple today. It was a challenge for me to do a performance in which there is an equal number of males and females.
How did the theme play out?
The logo was initiated in the ’70s when there was a hope for equality, and for males and females to have similar rights and clothing. In my perception I would like to see if the two parties can merge into one unit. I feel this struggle for equality still exists today, maybe in reverse, but I still find that males and females belong to different worlds. This casting was very young and I feel that the youth today really have a different perspective and are much more promiscuous. The beginning of the performance has all of the couples staged as the logo in the skate ramp. We give them some rules in which they can break the original position. I will leave it up to them to show me what is going to happen naturally, but I do have a choreographer who wants to show me some potential movements.
What was the look that you were going for to dress the models?
The look was to camouflage the blending of the skate ramp, so I used classic Dickies pants that were the same color as the asphalt and mixed with some vintage Kappa wear. I tried to get as close to nudity as possible, so women are wearing a leotard and males the Dickies.
Why did you take a break from performance art?
My performance art is based on demand, and I would only do this if I’m invited to a venue. I had four kids, but they also brought my attention to other aspects of my work like sculpture and painting. That was something I always wanted to do but I never had the time because of the constant requests. But the performance was always there, just less frequently. Even with my collaboration with Kanye West, I still used that skill in a different environment.
Which performance has been the most challenging?
Honestly, I never felt many challenges. Probably one of the most challenging aspects was in dealing with people of color in America, which has brought me a lot of trouble. I had a lot of backlash and was afraid and worried of having done something that wasn’t right. I still do it, and I’m determined – sometimes I don’t know if I’m right or wrong, but I’m stubborn and I follow my intuition.
How do you think your work has evolved?
The evolution has been including more races and genders, and the world has also become more political and social. Working with Kanye has also allowed me to touch on different themes that I couldn’t have done on my own.
How do you like working with famous brands?
To be honest I was raised to be anti-capitalistic and I am still. I feel like it’s a sense of duty to interact with the brands in a way that would subliminally criticize them. At the same time brands are great supporters of the art world, so I have no choice. When you work within an environment like the art world, you’re safe and it feels almost unreal. I like to venture into worlds that are not mine. That’s when I discover things that have a different effect.
What are you looking forward to the most?
Usually I am obsessed to see if the image will be iconic and if it looks like a painting or a drawing. That’s my main reference and more than the performative aspect I want to see the flat image. I want to see if this is going to work because I don’t rehearse. I also want to see what will happen between male and female, and if it will touch me in a way that I will change.
What are some of your next projects?
I am directing an opera for Kanye West about Jesus’ birth. It’s a sequel to Nebuchadnezzar, which just played at the Hollywood Bowl. I also have a painting show in LA that features very large oil paintings that I’ve been doing over the last two years.