press release

Suzanne Lacy: We Are Here
April 20–August 4, 2019

YBCA and SFMOMA announce the opening of Suzanne Lacy: We Are Here, which honors an artist whose efforts to engage multiple voices, explore collaborative authorship, and promote public pedagogy in projects throughout the world—and notably in the San Francisco Bay Area—have been foundational in the field of contemporary art but remain little understood in their entirety.

Over more than four decades, artist, writer, and educator Suzanne Lacy (American, b. 1945) has continually blurred the lines between art and political activism. A pioneer of social practice art, she confronts such issues as gender and racial inequality, ageism, poverty, and violence against women through participatory, research-based installations and large-scale, collaboratively choreographed performances. Her work is political, but also deeply imaginative and emotional, finding its forms, colors, and patterns in, she has explained, “the ‘shape’ of ideas, relationships, and social processes.”

Conceived as one exhibition at two venues, at SFMOMA, Lacy’s retrospective encompasses the diverse range of mediums the artist has explored throughout her career, including performance, photography, film, sculpture, video installation, drawing, artist’s books, and ephemera. The YBCA presentation departs from the traditional retrospective format, and focuses instead on an experimental approach to authorship and participation by exhibiting two of Lacy’s groundbreaking works as an entry point to examining today’s youth culture and media activism.

The exhibition is co-curated by Rudolf Frieling (Curator of Media Arts, SFMOMA), Lucía Sanromán (Director, Laboratorio Arte Alameda, Mexico City, and Curator at Large, YBCA), and Dominic Willsdon (former Leanne and George Roberts Curator of Education and Public Practice, SFMOMA; now Director, Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond), with the assistance of Christa Cesario (Community Organizing Manager, YBCA) and Tanya Zimbardo (Assistant Curator of Media Arts, SFMOMA).

SFMOMA Presentation
Spanning from Lacy’s projects in the 1970s to her latest video installations, SFMOMA’s presentation also features the world premiere of the video installation of De tu puño y letra (By Your Own Hand, 2015/2019), which draws from letters written by Ecuadorian women about their experiences of violence. Also included is the US debut of The Circle and the Square (2017), which explores the racial and religious consequences of globalized capitalism in England.

Several works at SFMOMA honor the voices and contributions of women to public life, and embody Lacy’s role as a pioneer of feminist art practice since the early 1970s. Her best-known performances convening groups of women, such as Three Weeks in May (1977), In Mourning and in Rage (1977, with Leslie Labowitz), and The Crystal Quilt (1987), are represented through videos, photographs, and sculptural elements. Attesting to the artist’s lasting relationship with the Bay Area, several coauthored works on view were originally staged in San Francisco, including Alterations (1994, with Susanne Cockrell and Britta Kathmeyer), Freeze Frame: Room for Living Room (1982, with Julia London), and International Dinner Party (1979, with Linda Preuss). The installation-performance Alterations (1994–95) and the performance Cleaning Conditions (2013) address issues of labor and will be updated and activated at SFMOMA with local participants.

YBCA presentation
The YBCA presentation focuses on The Oakland Projects (1991–2001, including collaborations with Chris Johnson, Annice Jacoby, Julio César Morales, and Unique Holland) and La piel de la memoria / Skin of Memory (1999, with Colombian anthropologist Pilar Riaño-Alcalá), as an entry point to examining today’s youth culture and media activism. La piel de la memoria / Skin of Memory engaged young people in the creation of a civic process to address systems of violence and trauma in Medellín, Colombia. The Oakland Projects provided public-school youth with tools to create their own media images to counter the negative representations of them prevalent in the media in the 1990s.

Lacy has worked with Unique Holland, a past participant and collaborator in The Oakland Projects, on a new multichannel video installation to explore the underlying systemic issues that created oppressive conditions for Oakland youth at the time of the original project. YBCA celebrates Lacy’s rich legacy of youth-focused work in the Bay Area today through the inclusion of organizations and artists who are placing young people in control of their stories and representations, including Oakland-based YR Media, San Francisco–based Youth Speaks, MediaJustice (formerly Center for Media Justice), San Francisco’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Middle School, and transdisciplinary artist Caleb Duarte.

Suzanne Lacy: We Are Here is accompanied by a richly illustrated 288-page catalogue coedited by Frieling, Sanromán, and Willsdon, and published by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in association with DelMonico Books • Prestel.