Suzanne Lacy

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Suzanne Lacy
Born 1945
Wasco, CA
Nationality American
Known for Performance art, installation, video, public art, and artists' books
Notable work Prostitution Notes (1974), Three Weeks in May (1977), In Mourning and Rage (1977), The Crystal Quilt (1987), The Oakland Projects (1991-2001), Storying Rape (2012), Between the Door and Street (2013)
Awards Public Art Dialogue Annual Award (2009), College Art Association Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement (2010), Women's Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award (2012)

Suzanne Lacy (born 1945, Wasco, CA) is an American artist, educator, and writer. She has worked in a variety of media, including installation, video, performance, public art, photography, and artists' books, and describes her work as focusing on "social themes and urban issues."[1] She also served in the education cabinet of Jerry Brown, then mayor of Oakland, California, and as arts commissioner for the city.[1][2] She designed multiple educational programs beginning with her role as performance faculty at The Feminist Studio Workshop at The Woman's Building in Los Angeles.

Performance art[edit]

In 1977, Lacy and collaborator Leslie Labowitz combined performance art with activism in "Three Weeks in May".[3] The event combined a performance piece on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall with self-defense classes for women in an attempt to highlight sexual violence against women.[3] The artists updated a map with reports from the Los Angeles Police Department, printing the word "rape" on spots on a map of the greater L.A. area.[4] Lacy and Labowitz went on in 1977 to create "In Mourning and In Rage" as a reaction to the “Hillside Strangler” murders in Los Angeles. This performance art piece took place on the steps of City Hall in Los Angeles and was a major media intervention. Lacy and Labowitz founded Ariadne: A Social Art Network, a collaborative group that focused on community-based artwork and educational opportunities.[5] On 10 May 1987, Lacy staged what is arguably her most well known performance piece,The Crystal Quilt, which featured 430 older women.[6] Filmed at IDS Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota and broadcast live on PBS, the performance involved "women talking about their lives as their gathering created an eighty-two foot square tableau in the shape of a quilt."[7] The performance was attended by over 3,000 people.

Lacy has also worked as a curator. In the mid-seventies she created the first exhibition of women's performance art at Womanspace Gallery at The Woman's Building. In 1981, she collaborated with Susan Hiller to curate the exhibition We'll Think of a Title When We Meet: Women Performance Artists from London and Los Angeles at Franklin Furnace, a well-known alternative arts venue founded in 1976 by Martha Wilson.[8]

Lacy produced many performances in various sites around the world, mostly focusing on race, class and gender equity. During the first two decades of the 2000 she rethought several earlier works for specific venues, including the WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution. In 2012, she re-created the earlier 1977 performance for the Getty Pacific Standard Time Performance Festival. Three Weeks in January, was an anti-rape performance based on her landmark 1977 project; this time the map was installed prominently on the LAPD's main campus.[9]

“The Year long “Whisper Project”, which led up to the Performance Artwork, (with San Diego performance artist Sharon Allen [10][11] acting as assistant director), began with an image – a procession of elderly women dressed in white moving down the vast beach. It culminated with 154 women (between the ages of 65 to 99 from diverse ethnicities and backgrounds) seated at white cloth-covered tables in the sand, using the San Diego (La Jolla) beaches as a forum in which they discussed their experiences by responding to prepared questions the audience heard a collage of the women’s voices, thanks to sound composer Susan Stone, through loudspeakers on the clips above, and later joined the performers below." [12] Lacy’s later project, “Whisper Minnesota” culminated in one of her best know public tableaus, “ The Crystal Quilt”, which enlarged upon the concepts of this earlier project.[13]

Margot Mifflin’s interview with Suzanne lacy, “From A Whisper To A Shout: Suzanne Lacy Talks About Art As A Network For Women’s Voices appeared in High Performance Magazine,[14] in 1984 immediately after "Whisper, The Waves, The Wind", one of her most visually stunning public tableaus took place. “From the whisper of women’s voices on a beach to a shout of rage on the steps of City Hall, Suzanne Lacy’s Art is one of alchemy and exorcism, celebration and condemnation” wrote Mifflin, “Lacy is an outspoken feminist, activist, and shrewd community organizer who uses performance to demonstrate possibilities for the future of women’s interaction and independents. While the backbone of her art is feminism, Lucy’s aesthetic sensibility informs her work as dramatically as her ideology.”

Mifflin asked Lacy to talk about her teaching philosophy and methodology at The Woman’s Building and Lacy responded, “I used performance as a way of obtaining inner material – a means to issues and personal information a woman would want to deal with. All that information is different for every individual, and the real job of any art teacher is to help a student tap into that inner source. The second part of my teaching involved creating a language to express the content of these discoveries. As for methodology, I asked people to assume characters – your worst fantasy, you’re most exciting vision of yourself . . . We did things based on relationships, collaborations with other women, or pieces involving someone unlike yourself.”

Lacy believes that her work cannot be re-enacted literally based on its immediate response to specific times and places. However, as many issues remain current it is possible to "re-think" works in new contexts. Like Crystal Quilt, Silver Action concerns older women, a re-creation produced for the opening of The Tanks, a new performance space at Tate Modern. Silver Action took place in February 2013 at the Tate Modern Gallery in London and featured 400 women over the age of 60 discussing their past activism on women's issues and the future of such activism, as well as issues women face as they age.[15]

Between 1991 and 2001 Lacy staged The Oakland Projects, a community performance art project, with contributions from TEAM (Teens, Educators, Artists, Media Makers). The Oakland Projects aimed to engage Oakland, CA youth through consciousness-raising. Oakland youth participated in performance art aimed at issues such as police brutality, social injustice, and education. Participants did not ‘perform’ in the traditional sense, but instead performed the social stereotypes available in their community.[16]

In 2012 Lacy revisited her earlier work “Three Weeks in May” (1977) by creating a new projected called “Three Weeks in January”. Like the original project, “Three Weeks in January” was a project on rape in Los Angeles, which included a combination of presentations and conversations, including a performance called “Storying Rape”. “Storying Rape: Shame Ends Here” grew into another art project produced for the Liverpool Biennial in 2012. The “Storying Rape” project for the City of Liverpool promotes a public conversation about rape violence, education, and prevention.[17]

In October 2013, Lacy gathered women for conversations on the stoops of houses on Park Place in Brooklyn, New York, for her Between the Door and the Street Project, which was sponsored by the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. The 360 participants discussed gender issues while passersby listened in.[18]


In addition to her work as an artist, Lacy also is the editor of Mapping the terrain: new genre public art, an anthology of essays about the impact of performance art in public spaces.[19][20] She has also written a number of articles on performance art for various publications.[21] I

Suzanne 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, Lacy's Book,[22] 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.


Lacy has held several positions at academic institutions focusing on the arts. She was the Dean of Fine Arts at California College of the Arts (CCA) from 1987-1997.[1][23] Lacy was a founding faculty member at California State University, Monterey Bay.[23] She was founding director of the Center for Fine Art and Public Life.[23] She went on to serve as the Chair of Fine Arts at Otis College of Art and Design from 2002–2006, before designing and launching a Master of Fine Arts program in Public Practice for the college in 2007.[24]


Lacy has won numerous fellowships, including several from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Lila Wallace Arts International Fellowship.[25] She was the first recipient of the Public Art Dialogue Annual Award in 2009.[26] She received the Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement from the College Art Association in 2010 and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women's Caucus for Art in 2012.[27][28]


Her work is owned by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles "Prostitution Notes" and The Tate Modern "The Crystal Quilt." In 2012, the Hammer Museum acquired Three Weeks in May (1977).[4]


  1. ^ a b c Suzanne Lacy. "Home". Artist Resource Center. Suzanne Lacy. Retrieved 2009-10-22. 
  2. ^ "Noted Artist, Author Suzanne Lacy to Give Talk at University of Virginia April 23". UVA Today. University of Virginia. 2008-04-14. Retrieved 2009-10-22. 
  3. ^ a b Karen Rosenberg (March 28, 2008). "Turning Stereotypes Into Artistic Strengths". New York Times. 
  4. ^ a b David Ng (December 12, 2012), Hammer Museum acquires 'Three Weeks in May' by Suzanne Lacy Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ Lacy, Suzanne. "In Mourning and In Rage (1977) Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz". Retrieved 5 February 2015. 
  6. ^ Cohen-Cruz, Jan (1998). Radical street performance: an international anthology. New York, NY: Routledge. p. xx. ISBN 0-415-15231-3. Retrieved 2009-10-22. 
  7. ^ "Making the Crystal Quilt". Video Data Bank. Retrieved 2009-10-22. 
  8. ^ Gaulke, Cheri and Laurel Klick, eds (2012). Feminist Art Workers: A History. Los Angeles: OTIS College of Art and Design. ISBN 978-1468050646. 
  9. ^ Jori Finkel (January 12, 2012), Suzanne Lacy kicks off 'Three Weeks in January' at LAPD headquarters Los Angeles Times.
  10. ^ High Performance Volume 9 , Number 1, 1986
  11. ^ High Performance Magazine in Volume 12, number 2 Issue 26 1984
  12. ^ High Performance Volume 7, Number 2, 1984 issue 26
  13. ^ Lacy, Suzanne (2010). Leaving Art (First ed.). Durham and London: Duke University Press. p. xxviii, xxiv, 152, 154. 
  14. ^ High Performance Magazine in Volume 12, number 2 Issue 26
  15. ^ Laura Barnett (January 29, 2013), Tate Modern's women's liberation army The Guardian.
  16. ^ Gogarty, Larne Abse. "Performance as a Rehearsal for Revolution: Suzanne Lacy’s Oakland Projects through the lens of the Paterson Strike Pageant". Retrieved 5 February 2015. 
  17. ^ "Three Weeks in January". Retrieved 5 February 2015. 
  18. ^ Carol Kino (October 10, 2013), When Talking Makes the Art Happen: Suzanne Lacy and Hundreds of Women Take to the Stoops New York Times.
  19. ^ Lacy, Suzanne (1995). Mapping the terrain: new genre public art. Indiana University. ISBN 0-941920-30-5. Retrieved 2009-10-22. 
  20. ^ Katy Deepwell 'Suzanne Lacy: New Genre Public Art' vol.4 July 1999 n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal pp.25-33
  21. ^ "Suzanne Lacy - Bibliography". Nature, Culture, Public Space. Women Artists of the American West. Retrieved 2009-10-22. 
  22. ^ Leaving Art: Writings on Performance, Politics, and Publics, 1974-2007
  23. ^ a b c "Sept 2002 - Inter-networking". Otis Alumni Newsletter. Retrieved 2009-10-22. 
  24. ^ "Digification :: Graduate Public Practice Portfolio". Otis College of Art and Design. Digication, Inc. Retrieved 2009-10-22. 
  25. ^ "Biography". Nature, Culture, Public Space. Women Artists of the American West. Retrieved October 8, 2012. 
  26. ^ "Annual Award". Public Art Dialogue. Retrieved October 8, 2012. 
  27. ^ "CAA Announces 2010 Awards for Distinction". CAA News. College Art Association. Retrieved October 8, 2012. 
  28. ^ "Press Release for the 2012 WCA Lifetime Achievement Awards". Women's Caucus for Art, Georgia blog. Retrieved October 8, 2012. 

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