Vito Acconci, a father of performance and video art and a shamanistic, poetic, deeply influential force on the New York art scene for decades, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 77.
Some performances might have gotten him arrested, though Mr. Acconci also seemed to possess the instincts of a cat burglar. In one of his most famous early works, “Following Piece,” from 1969, he spent each day for almost a month following a person picked at random on the streets of Manhattan, sometimes taking a friend along to photograph the action. The rules were only that Mr. Acconci had to keep following the person until he or she entered a private place where he couldn’t go in.
Even when thinking about the end of his life, he seemed to conceive of it as consonant with his work, a performance. In a letter to an unknown recipient in 1971, he spoke of his fears of dying on a plane trip to Canada and stated that before the flight he would deposit an envelope with a key to his apartment at the registrar’s desk at the School of Visual Arts. “In the event of my death,” the letter, a kind of will, concluded, “the envelope can be picked up by the first person who calls for it; he will be free to use my apartment, and its contents, any way he wishes.”