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Vanessa Beecroft and her favorite props, black bodies (photo via Wikipedia)

One can only imagine the patience and tolerance required of New York Magazine writer Amy Larocca to spend time with Vanessa Beecroft and listen to the utter absurdity spewing from the artist’s mouth. In a lengthy profile published for The Cut’s fall issue, Beecroft reveals some very interesting facts about herself: that her diet consists mostly of powders; that she refers to her assumedly very clean and safe home in Hollywood Hills as a “favela”; and that she harbors some very, very messed-up thoughts about race.

Vanessa Beecroft, “Le Membre Fantôme” at the 2015 Venice Biennale (photo by Fabio Omero via Flickr, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license) (click to enlarge)

Beecroft “withdrew from the art world” nearly six years ago after years of arranging mostly naked women in standing positions, and the hook for the profile seems to be her steady collaborations with Kanye West. Shit hits the fan straight from Larocca’s first paragraph, when Beecroft talks about this relationship with West and channels Rachel Dolezal:

“I have divided my personality,” the Italian artist says. “There is Vanessa Beecroft as a European white female, and then there is Vanessa Beecroft as Kanye, an African-American male.” She then reveals that she actually took a DNA test as she thought she could very possibly be black. Spoiler alert: she is not.

“I was kind of disappointed, and I don’t want to believe it,” Beecroft continues. “I want to do it again, because when I work with Africans or African-Americans, I feel that I am autobiographical. If I don’t call myself white, maybe I am not.”

It’s incredibly surprising Beecroft even managed to make the distinction between those two groups, since she admitted that people from Africa and Jamaica look the same to her eyes:

I had wanted to move to the States because of the presence of African-Americans. When I landed at JFK, my first impression is being welcomed by all of these African, or maybe Jamaican, air people that help you at the airport with your luggage. They were so kind. Welcome! I was so happy to see mixed races. In Italy, they are in the street selling gadgets.

It is so lovely that America opened up Beecroft’s eyes to smiling, helpful “air people,” but much more charming is her touchdown in Africa, when she went to what is now South Sudan to film “The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins,” the notorious documentary in which she breastfeeds two orphans and, oh, attempts to adopt them.

“It was so beautiful, really aesthetical!” she presumably gushed to Larocca when describing her perception of the war-torn country. “And everyone looked like Alek Wek.”

A happy man! Yeezy/Kayne West finale @tmagazine @yeezyseason2 #NYFW #SS16

A photo posted by Malina Joseph Gilchrist (@malinajoseph) on

How people from Africa look endlessly fascinates Beecroft: she had a very specific vision of how to portray refugees from Rwanda when explaining the creative calls behind her recent Madison Square Garden collaboration with Kanye for his launch of Yeezy Season 3:

I wanted the people to look poor. Poverty and elegance were the key words. Poverty and elegance. No trends, no fashion. Real poverty, what you encounter when you travel to Africa, Mexico, those countries where people wear their clothes with dignity and they look elegant and they look like they have intelligence. When we were casting, I said, ‘Please don’t have anyone who looks stupid. Or fancy. Please. Classical, poor, and elegant.’

It turns out Beecroft’s interest in black bodies spans decades … all the way back to her youth, actually, when she rarely came across people of different races, as Larocca reported.

“When I was a child, I won a prize at school for drawing black children in a ship,” she says. “There were probably 30 or 40 of them. A lot. I drew so many of them, and I won a prize because the sisters of the nursery school were kind of mesmerized. So you see, everything comes from somewhere.”

Yes. Now that we know that young Beecroft was praised for her depictions that set black people on a boat, everything is certainly starting to make sense.

Read the whole piece here, but not before getting yourself an Advil, because your neck will probably be sore from shaking your head so much.

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

21 replies on “Vanessa Beecroft Publicly Airs a Racist Perspective”

  1. Well everything sounds so well intended. Trump and Mister Magoo, this is a publicity statement above all. Reminiscent of Marina Abramović and Jay-Z. I can see Beecroft and Kanye making a Picasso Baby version of African misery. Poverty pornography

  2. As someone whose career was launched through making unforgiveably sexist artworks (naked women in stilettos, etc–puhleeze!!) it’s no surprise at all to me that she would also be a complete idiot when it comes to issues around race.

    1. …or how easy it is to sucker art world left-wing moralists?

      In Italy, feminism never rejected fashion and “female” beauty. Get over it.

      1. That’s hilarious. Do you know what happens to women’s Achilles tendons if they wear insane shoes all the time? And do you think that Chinese footbinding was a fashion statement.

        1. Since you’re tossing out unrelated subjects now, red herrings, I’ll assume you got the point. G’day.

        2. The irony of your humorous ‘ear empathy’ exclamation is the what is lost in Claire Voon’s rush to judgment as well as that of many commentors’ herein, is that ’empathy’ [for Africans/Blacks] is exactly what was being expressed by Vanessa Beecroft in her original interview. It is a symbolically expressed empathy, but that is what it is nonetheless.
          The challenge is that many are far too ready and willing to criticize the artist rather than take the time to read, ponder thoughtfully and understand beyond the surface. In fact, an in depth reading of that actual interview will also show that her collaborative partner, Kanye West, much to his credit, seems to have no issue whatsoever in seeing that her perspective is merely an understandable pondering of race relations and a sincere desire to empathize, albeit figurative expressed.

        3. ummmm if you just compared wearing heels to “doing your job” then don’t even joke about tolerance or feminism.

          Cuz that’s the point, art and fashion create standards of “beauty” which have real physical and economic effects on real people’s lives when they don’t follow standards which should be arbitrary personal choices.

          Yeah you can be a feminist and wear heels and do whatever you want but obviously the commenter was criticising a piece of art which only seemed to follow these established standards, and then presumably make more money, which can tend to make the justification tagged onto it feel totally false. That’s what happens with appropriation in so many contexts, it can simply reinforce what it’s “commenting” on… Maybe a weird comparison but look at what America got out of Dave Chappelle’s show vs what he was going for.

    2. The righteous glory of Bastille Day led to The Terror of the French Revolution. Even Jacques Louis David, poster boy artist of the Tri-Color Crowd, came to within a hair’s breadth of loosing his head.
      The winds of glory are fickle as indeed the Guillotine chops both felon and friend equally well.

    3. Did you ever stop to consider that a questioning of the sexism and fashion is exactly what Beecroft was addressing in that career?
      This male of a certain age had no trouble whatsoever deciphering the meaning behind the artists work.

  3. There is a lot of class bias in Beecroft, but the article is so obsessed with identity politics that it completely ignores it.

  4. so you aren’t supposed to be interested in the look of black bodies bc thats racist, but you are supposed to give a person a job just because they inhabit a black body, but that isn’t racist. makes perfect sense.

    1. No, you aren’t supposed to objectify black bodies as aesthetic props rather than human beings.

      1. but its ok to do it with whites and women? you know, like in hollywood? or how about the idea that i’m supposed to vote for someone bc she has, allegedly, a vagina?

  5. Claire Voon does neither the cause of race relations nor arts journalism any benefit by isolating a passage, removing it from its context and then presuming to broadly criticize the artist based upon that misrepresentation.

    Parsing phrases is certainly not a desirable attribute of an informed professional critic or reviewer.

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