Acconci.COURTESY CREATIVE TIME

Acconci.

COURTESY CREATIVE TIME

“Everything I did in art was based on a hatred of art and a hatred of museums, because it was the opposite of everyday life,Vito Acconci said in 2008, looking back on his more than 40 years of work. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, in a relentless series of performances, installations, films, sound pieces, and photographs, Acconci aimed to shatter that opposition. He followed people on the street, masturbated while hidden in a gallery, and disfigured his own body. Even among a generation of artists who were avowedly radical, he was an unrepentant outlier, pushing forms of art that were by turns lurid and abject, that made himself look pathetic and menacing, and that were absolutely exhilarating.

His death at the age of 77 brings to an end one of the most unusual, superb, and trailblazing careers in postwar American art.

Though Acconci made his name with radical performances and later reinvented himself as an outré architect, he started out as a poet, and throughout his life emphasized in interviews that writing was at the core of his practice. (On the topic of influences, he once listed Faulkner, Genet, William Carlos Williams, and Jean-Luc Godard.) In April of 1967, at the age of 27, he began publishing a journal in New York called 0 to 9 with Bernadette Mayer, which ran Sol LeWitt’s “Sentences on Conceptual Art,” among other radical texts.

Recalling that time years later, Acconci said that he particularly envied Aram Saroyan, whose poems regularly consisted of just a single repeated noun. “[W]hile the rest of us tried to be verbs, like everybody told us to do, he had the nerve to stop at nouns,” he once wrote of Saroyan. “Because he took a deep breath and willed himself into the self-confidence of naming.”