Leaving Art

Writings on Performance, Politics, and Publics, 1974–2007

Leaving Art

Book Pages: 424 Illustrations: 74 illustrations, 2 figures Published: August 2010

Author: Suzanne Lacy

Contributor(s): Moira Roth, Kerstin May

Art and Visual Culture > Feminist Art, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Theater and Performance > Performance Art

Since the 1970s, the performance and conceptual artist Suzanne Lacy has explored women’s lives and experiences, as well as race, ethnicity, aging, economic disparities, and violence, through her pioneering community-based art. Combining aesthetics and politics, and often collaborating with other artists and community organizations, she has staged large-scale public art projects, sometimes involving hundreds of participants. Lacy has consistently written about her work: planning, describing, and analyzing it; advocating socially engaged art practices; theorizing the relationship between art and social intervention; and questioning the boundaries separating high art from popular participation. By bringing together thirty texts that Lacy has written since 1974, Leaving Art offers an intimate look at the development of feminist, conceptual, and performance art since those movements’ formative years. In the introduction, the art historian Moira Roth provides a helpful overview of Lacy’s art and writing, which in the afterword the cultural theorist Kerstin Mey situates in relation to contemporary public art practices.


Leaving Art incisively plots the evolution of an artist wrestling with the most fundamental questions regarding art and activism. . . . Leaving Art recounts the bravery and commitment of one among many women whose activism during the last half century permanently changed their reluctant American audience as much as they themselves were changed.” — Kevin Riel, Women's Studies

“[S]hould be required reading for all artists interested in work with political content as well as those who site their work beyond the precincts of art.” — Andrea Kirsch, Art Blog

“As an introduction to Lacy’s work, or as an in-depth look at Lacy’s artistic process, the book will appeal both to those newly familiar with Lacy or with those who have long followed her career. . . . In particular, Lacy’s work prioritizes the urgency of listening to marginalized voices just as it delves into content that lies beneath the surface of our lives. Lacy provokes us to consider what has become forcibly out of sight (e.g., stories of cancer, narratives of rape, privilege of Whiteness), and what we drive underground because of fear, shame, and the difficulty of seeing ourselves.” — Breanne Fahs, Elevate Difference

“Suzanne Lacy’s detailed and compelling writings leave general readers, artists, and historians a record of a powerful and stimulating art form, that, like its spirtiual counterpart, is a response to the presence of suffering in the world and anti-materialist and anti-hierarchical way of creating meaning.” — Kristine Morris, Foreword Reviews

”Through an intimate view of one artist’s work and writings, the book conveys Lacy’s critical position on aesthetics and politics, frames it within the art and culture of the periods covered, and provides a paradigm for politically engaged performance and collaboration today.” — Kristine Marx, PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art

“Leaving Art adds to the scholarship of contemporary art and feminist studies by gathering in one place essays and projects by this prolific writer and artist. . . . [It] will interest and benefit scholars, students, and the general public who are drawn to socially engaged art and explorations of power.”
— Brenda Mitchell, Woman's Art Journal

“For nearly 40 years Ms. Lacy’s collaborative, community-based art projects, some involving hundreds of people, have been grappling with matters of race, class and possible social change with a hands-on audacity that few artists can match. This book, with a persuasive introduction by the artist-historian Moira Roth, at last puts Ms. Lacy’s own fluent accounts of her life and work between covers. The result is a moving and feisty document of a committed life, one that students of the art of our time will be grateful for in the years ahead.” — Holland Cotter, New York Times

“Lacy remains close in spirit to the feminism that emerged in the late '60s. Many of her most significant performances directly addressed women's issues, especially rape, prostitution, pornography and physical aging. With a canny understanding of mass communications. Lacy calibrated her staged actions to garner media attention, and to be readily comprehensible to those outside the art world. One of the most consistent elements of her activity is its emphasis on forming multiracial alliances under the banner of ‘Women.’” — Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Art in America

“Reflection in and on the present moment–rather than a concern for prestige or posterity–defines and sets apart Lacy’s experimental documents as in some way ‘live’ themselves, making Leaving Art a strong resource for public and live artists working now.” — Becky Hunter, Whitehot Magazine

“The book, then, performs best as an archive of methods. One text explicitly
outlines how to develop a media strategy for a feminist campaign, with excellent practical tips on structuring an event and how to convey its meaning to the media. But, more subliminally, we can gauge throughout how certainty wavers and how uncertainty, when viewed in retrospect, is ultimately productive.” — Sally O’Reilly, Art Monthly

“As both artist and theorist, Suzanne Lacy has pioneered the field of collaborative and socially engaged art. Over the past several decades, she has refigured artistic practice as a means for the production of new publics. This book is an incomparable toolbox for anyone seeking a renewal of art’s social and political potential today.” — Hans Ulrich Obrist, Co-Director of Exhibitions and Programmes and Director of International Projects at the Serpentine Gallery, London

“Suzanne Lacy is the most important public artist working today, in part because she is also an inspired organizer, writer, and public intellectual. Multicultural and multicentered, and devoted to civic dialogue, she balances esthetics and politics, pragmatics and imagination, while collaborating with those living inside the issues. Her feminist energy infuses this book. It will turn many heads.” — Lucy R. Lippard, author of The Pink Glass Swan: Selected Feminist Essays on Art

“Suzanne Lacy’s work is a communal improvisation inviting life to happen in all its drama, absurdity, pain, and danger. At its best, it has the passion and complexity of Action Painting.” — Eleanor Antin, artist and Professor Emeritus, University of California, San Diego


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Suzanne Lacy is an internationally known artist whose work includes installations, video, and large-scale performances on social themes and urban issues. She is also chair of the Master in Fine Arts in Public Practice program at Otis College of Art and Design. Lacy edited the collection Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art and has published more than seventy articles on public and performance art.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations ix

Preface xiii

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction. Suzanne Lacy: Three Decades of Performing and Writing/Writing and Performing / Moira Roth xvii

Part 1. Learning to Look: The Seventies

Introduction 2

1. Prostitution Notes (1974) 5

2. Falling Apart (1980) 20

3. Body Contract (1974) 30

Photo Essay. Learn Where the Meat Comes From (1976) 43

4. Cinderella in a Dragster (1977) 48

5. The Bag Lady: On Memory (1982) 52

6. The Life and Times of Donaldina Cameron (with Linda Palumbo and Kathleen Chang) (1978) 57

7. In Mourning and In Rage (With Analysis Aforethought) (1978) 64

8. Learning to Look: The Relationship between Art and Popular Culture Images (with Leslie Labowitz) (1970) 72

9. Feminist Artists: Developing a Media Strategy for the Movement (with Leslie Labowitz) (1981) 83

10. Time, Bones, and Art: Anatomy of a Decade (1995) 92

Part 2. Political Performance Art: The Eighties

Introduction 108

11. Broomsticks and Banners: The Winds of Change (1980) 109

12. The Greening of California Performance: Art of Social Change—A Case Study (1982) 114

13. Made for TV: California Performance in Mass Media (1982) 120

14. Battle of New Orleans (1980) 126

15. Beneath the Seams (1982) 137

16. In the Shadows: An Analysis of The Dark Madonna (1990) 144

17. Political Performance Art: A Discussion by Suzanne Lacy and Lucy R. Lippard (1985) 151

Part 3. Debated Territory: The Nineties

Introduction 160

18. The Name of the Game (1991) 161

19. Debated Territory: Toward a Critical Language for Public Art (1994) 172

20. Affinities: Thoughts on an Incomplete History (1994) 185

21. Love, Cancer, Memory: A Few Stories (1996) 194

22. Cancer Notes (with Leslie Becker) (1995) 211

23. What It Takes (with Ann Wettrich) (2002) 222

Part 4. Leaving Art: After 2000

Introduction 236

24. The Skin of Memory/La Piel de la Memoria (with Pilar Riaño-Alcalá) (2006) 237

25. Seeking an American Identity (Working Inward from the Margins) (2003) 250

26. Cop in the Head, Cop in the Street (2006) 267

27. Having It Good: Reflections on Engaged Art and Engaged Buddhism (2005) 284

28. Hard Work in a Working-Class Town (2006) 300

29. Tracing Allan Kaprow (2007) 319

Afterword: In|ter|ceptions and In|tensions—Situating Suzanne Lacy's Practice / Kerstin Mey 327

Appendix. Chronology and Selected Performances and Installations 339

Notes 343

Index 369
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4569-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4552-7
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