Suzanne Lacy


Left: Cover of Suzanne Lacy’s Leaving Art: Writings on Performance, Politics, and Publics 1974–2007 (2010). Right: Suzanne Lacy and Allan Kaprow (center) with artistic team in Joensuu, Finland.

In Leaving Art: Writings on Performance, Politics, and Publics 1974–2007, the renowned artist Suzanne Lacy considers the changing politics of public space. Lacy resides in Los Angeles, where she is founding chair of the graduate public practice program at Otis College of Art and Design. The book is available from Duke University Press.

LEAVING ART seemed like an ironic, maybe humorous title for this collection of essays stretching over thirty years. Throughout my career there have been people who have left the art world to continue a trajectory of ideas and concerns within other disciplines. Today, some of the earlier aesthetic investigations are becoming more interesting again. The notion of actually leaving the art world, or metaphorically leaving through a break with conventional art markets and media, was established in the 1970s. The permeability between “art” and “life” is one of a series of concerns resurfacing now.

In one early work, for example, I practiced carpentry as art. I actually was a carpenter, and I decided to frame that “making” process as a performative artwork. People came by and watched me build walls. The actual product of the activity was not important; rather we focused on the fabric of the relationships among the artist, activity, and (in this case occasional) audience. One could say that a significant project of the ’70s was to rethink “audience,” or “participant.”

While politically America suffers from historical amnesia, it is not unusual for artists to revisit past working strategies as a result of perhaps similar social conditions. The Iraq war has some parallels to Vietnam. Now is an interesting time to reconsider the aesthetic and ethical concerns of the ’70s because, to put it plainly, the “horses’ mouths” are still around. My students are interested in public artistic practices from that era, and many of these artists are still alive, and working, although sadly people like Allan Kaprow (to whom this book is dedicated) are no longer with us.

People seem to have problems categorizing my work and writing. Having been trained during the rise of performance and Conceptual art, I have a diverse output, and the essays in this book, which were originally published between 1974 and 2007, are also quite varied. It seemed useful to organize the book according to decades, although some do fall out of sequence. A project that I am working on with the Reina Sofía museum and the Spanish Ministry of Equality, for example, echoes the subject of violence against women, one central to my work in the ’70s. How that project is like, and different from, earlier works is an interesting problem within the artwork itself. How it responds to other contemporary projects on this and different subjects is of great interest to me as a conceptually oriented artist as well as a writer.

I address changing conventions of critique in Leaving Art. When I was an art student, the art world and the performance scene were very small. Relationships were crucial to our practice and there were not so many people to know. Most of us traveled internationally, and our knowledge of one another’s work was achieved directly. Now the art world is larger, and the marketplace dominates. Before, art historians would investigate and report dutifully on the artist’s works and concerns, but now the critic-historian inserts him or herself more centrally into the writing. There are blurrings between curatorial and artistic practices where before lines were more clearly drawn.

One of my contributions to the upcoming Getty-sponsored series of exhibitions “Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945–1980” is an essay I am writing with Jennifer Flores Sternad for the exhibition “Los Angeles Goes Live,” sponsored by Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions. We worked with scholars and students to interview about fifty Southern California performance artists to examine linkages among various groups between 1970 and 1982––including feminists, Marxists, African-American and Chicano artists. We asked each artist to sketch a map of influences during the emergence of his or her performance work. From these we will construct webs of relationality. Unknown artists are going to emerge through this naming; surprising new influences might also appear as a result of an interrogation of that vastly interdisciplinary moment.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler