This monumental photoetching is composed of eight sheets of paper individually framed and stacked twenty feet high. Acconci photographed a section of an aluminum ladder and repeatedly printed it to create this towering image. Ladders were a recurring motif in the artist’s work in the late 1970s and often underscored how space can be manipulated and made to appear endless through repetition. As the title suggests, this work can be installed on a wall of any height, because it adapts to the surrounding architecture. The life-size scale invites viewers to imagine climbing the ladder and escaping their surroundings.
Gallery label from Out of Time: A Contemporary View, August 30, 2006–April 9, 2007.
In the late 1960s, much of the vanguard artist community turned away from discrete painting and sculpture and adopted a more conceptual and ephemeral approach to making art. Vito Acconci was a pioneer in this radical movement and emerged as a leading provocative voice, using his own body and sensory experiences as the medium and subject of his art. In the 1970s, Acconci's work primarily comprised actions and performances promoting subversive social and political commentary, many of which he documented in photographs, films, and videos. In the 1980s, he began creating more permanent sculptures and installations, including several outdoor site-specific pieces that reflect his growing interest in architecture and design. Acconci has made prints only sporadically since his first lithographs in 1971 at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, but has completed approximately forty projects to date. Most of his prints are photo-based, using either appropriated images or those taken of his own installations. He has collaborated with Landfall Press in Chicago, Crown Point Press in Oakland, and Graphicstudio in Tampa as well as several university printshops, working primarily in photolithography and photoetching. The manipulation of space and the implied participation of the viewer have been persistent themes in Acconci's art. Several of his printed works attempt to integrate their imagery with the surrounding architecture, in essence creating a printed installation with which the viewer can engage. In the late 1970s, he completed several sculptural pieces involving ladders—Acconci's symbol for the human urge to escape one's surroundings. In 1979 he began work on this monumental print, photographing an aluminum ladder he brought to the printer's studio. Its life-size scale and multiple repetitions, which required nearly two years to print, create an effective and alluring invitation to climb away.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Wendy Weitman, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 247.