Vito Acconci's parents were Italian immigrants. Though relatively poor, they provided an environment that was rich in art and music, and Acconci thought from the time he was five years old that he wanted to be a writer. He studied at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts (B.A. 1962), and did graduate work at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop (M.F.A. 1964). After graduate school Acconci returned to New York and taught English composition at several colleges. Shifting from writing prose to writing poetry, he also began to frequent art galleries. Jasper Johns' work interested him, and during the late 1960s Acconci and Bernadette Mayer coedited the Xerox magazine 0 to 9 (a very Johnsian title).
In 1969 Acconci turned from poetry to the visual arts and began to produce the performance pieces, bodyworks, installations, and videos for which he is best known. In recent years, his installations have increasingly employed architectural elements and he has created works for public places, including the Palladium in New York (1986) and the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta (1987).
Acconci first combined print and performance in his 1970 piece Trademarks, applying printer's ink to bite marks he made on his body and transferring their impressions to other surfaces. In 1971 he used this procedure for an edition of fifty lithographs at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) lithography workshop.
In addition to the NSCAD workshop and Graphicstudio, Acconci has made prints at Crown Point Press and Landfall Press in Chicago, as well as several college- and university-based workshops, including the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the Print Workshop, State University of New York, Albany.
From 1968 to 1971 Acconci taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and he has participated in numerous visiting artist programs, including those of NSCAD, Cooper Union in New York, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Yale University, and Parsons School of Design, New York.
Acconci's important one-person exhibitions include those held at the Sonnabend Gallery, New York (1971), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1978), Kunstmuseum, Lucerne (1978), Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1978), Centre d'arts plastiques contemporains, Bordeaux (1979), Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1980), Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, and Kunsthaus Zürich (1981), Institute of Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond (1982), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1983), Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (1985), U.S.F. Art Galleries (1986), La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art (1987), Museum of Modern Art, New York (1988), Gray Art Gallery, East Carolina University, Greenville (1989), and Landfall Press, New York (1990). (Fine/Corlett 1991, 141)