Up close with performance pioneer Suzanne Lacy

SFMOMA, YBCA spotlight California conceptual artist

Suzanne Lacy, a pioneering figure in feminist and performance art, is the subject of a vast-scale, dual-site exhibition in San Francisco.

“Suzanne Lacy: We Are Here” runs through Aug. 4 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Organized by both institutions, it is the first major retrospective of Lacy’s five-decade career, and it makes for demanding but rewarding viewing.

Lacy, known for her contributions to the Los Angeles performance-art arena and to the art of social engagement in the 1970s, creates large-scale installations and other works whose ingredients include activism, community dialogue, audience participation and media involvement. Some are provocative; some are moving; some are entertaining.

Her process involves deep collaborations with fellow artists and community members. Her projects call attention to a range of women’s and social issues.

Performance installations featured in the exhibit are represented by original artwork, audio and video projections, photographs and other documentation.

The SFMOMA half of the exhibition highlights about 70 Lacy projects, most involving feminism.

“Three Weeks in May” (1977; created with Leslie Labowitz) addresses the extent of violence against women. Components include a performance on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall and a rape-location map, updated daily.

“Whisper, the Waves, the Wind” (1983-1984; created with Sharon Allen) spotlights older women, a group generally ignored by the media. Dressed in white, 154 women, 65 and older, appear in tableaux on beaches and discuss their hopes and hardships. Via loudspeakers,their conversations reach audiences.

That project’s indoor sequel, the performance installation “The Crystal Quilt” (1985-1987), also receives attention in the exhibit.

Lacy looks at the textile industry, and considers the low-paid immigrant women employed by it, in “Alterations” (1994), a collaborative performance installation containing massive red, white and blue piles of fabric.

“The Circle and the Square” (2017), a video installation about English mill workers, making its U.S. debut, also reflects Lacy’s interest in women and labor. Additional featured subjects include prostitution, bodies, personas, animals and Frankenstein and Dracula.

At YBCA, a short walk from SFMOMA, viewers experience two significant Lacy community projects involving youth.

In the ambitious, collaborative “The Oakland Projects” (1991-2001), young people share their voices and power, countering media-created images of urban teens. Themes include race, drugs, police brutality and teen pregnancy.

A component of the project, “The Roof Is on Fire” (1993-1994), includes a performance in which 220 high school students, sitting in cars, discuss their lives.

“La piel de la memoria/Skin of Memory” (created with Pilar Riano-Alcala), examines bloodshed and trauma in Medellin, Colombia. The 1999 project included memory workshops and a museum. Artifacts from the museum are on view.

The exhibition also includes youth-themed presentations by local organizations and artists.

Both venues are hosting live activations and public programs.


Suzanne Lacy: We Are Here

Where: Seventh floor and Haas Jr. Atrium, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., S.F.

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (except closed Wednesdays and to 9 p.m. Thursdays); through Aug. 4

Tickets: $19 to $25; free for 18 and younger

Contact: (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org

Note: The exhibition also is at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., S.F.; open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except closed Mondays and to 8 p.m. Thursdays; www.ybca.org

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