Suzanne Lacy Teaches Andrea Bowers Performance Art at Beta Main

Photo Credit - Jack Burke
Beta Main. Main Museum of Los Angeles Art. Photo Credit – Jack Burke

Performance Lessons:
Suzanne Lacy Teaches Andrea Bowers Performance Art

By Genie Davis 


To quote the classic Buffalo Springfield song, “There’s something happening here…” and to some, what it is won’t be exactly clear. What’s happening at the new, still-under-construction Beta Main Museum is two-fold: the museum is being built even as visitors flock to see it, and an exciting if enigmatic performance art piece is unfolding.

Together, the two events seem wonderfully paired: viewers are witnessing a work in progress on two levels – the performance and the performing space.

On Sunday October 30th, artists Suzanne Lacy and Andrea Bowers officially began their sit-in, work-in, sleep-in performance, Beta Main’s first commissioned project, Performance Lessons: Suzanne Lacy Teaches Andrea Bowers Performance Art.

The performance lasted ten days, during which time there were talks, special events, and formal critiques. What viewers witnessed Sunday afternoon was the birth of this period, the cracking of the egg, if you will, in which the two artists work was still gestating.

The relationship between the two artists, however, is not new. It began in 2014, when Bowers taught Lacy how to draw at The Drawing Center in New York. Here, they’ve reversed roles with Lacy teaching Bowers how to do performance art. They are comfortable, companionable, and opinionated.

On the afternoon of the opening reception, following an artist’s talk, the pair busily moved between two tables positioned at either end of one side of the museum’s future lobby area. They wrote directives and taped them to the walls. Around them, others video-taped and photographed their venture. Directly across from them, seemingly oblivious, two workmen climbed ladders, painting and patching. Adjacent to the construction work, what will be the museum’s future restaurant lay open for public viewing, guarded by watchful security staff. Here was a beautiful, art-deco empty space, a former bank, sitting like a blank canvas.

Above and behind the open lobby space, two glassed-in loft bedrooms belonging to the artists were illuminated with a vaguely futuristic lavender light; through the glass viewers could see the beds and personal items of the artists, as of this writing an unused part of their stage.

The museum makes a perfect performance space, a cavernous theater on which Bowers and Lacy move, absorbed in their own artistic endeavor, undertaking  a reckoning of sorts – can Lacy teach Bowers? What can Lacy learn from her protege? How is movement taught? All of these questions permeate a charged and excited atmosphere in which museum visitors drift in and out of the space, peer into the empty future-restaurant, turn briefly to watch the ersatz “stage hands,” the construction workers, then swivel back to the brightly lit area in which the two artists move from table to table, confer, write, paste words on the wall. Their movements have a balletic grace, their pauses are fraught with meaning. Viewers are riveted, watching. Or are they filling in the blanks?

Are viewers imagining, co-creating the performance, even as they are imagining what the empty spaces of the museum itself will hold? Are they viewing the drawings of architectural models, envisioning the future, and then turning to view the work in progress of the artists, envisioning what their roles are and will be?

Perhaps that’s neither here nor there. All art is an act of interpretation.

Beta Main. Main Museum of Los Angeles Art. Photo Courtesy Beta Main
Beta Main. Main Museum of Los Angeles Art. Photo Courtesy Beta Main

Bowers’ feminist art, which includes photography and drawing, has been featured in solo exhibitions worldwide, including at REDCAT here in Los Angeles. Her work documents activists, focuses on change, and the vitality, the energy of change. Lacy is also a social activist, one who has lectured worldwide, and whose work includes video, photographic installation, and performances. The two are friends as well as artists and colleagues. Their goal here is to explore their own boundaries, teach and be taught.

Watching them, they have a comfortable rhythm, which reassures even as it intrigues. They are of different generations, Bowers some 20 years younger than Lacy. It is not age that sets the teacher/student dynamic, and in fact, during time spent with them this past weekend, viewers could see minute shifts between the pair continually and consistently, shared moments, instruction, understanding, each taking their turn in learning from the other.

A meta quality overhung the performance, as conversations were overheard, many focused on the work that the artists were creating. The sounds of construction, the drifting-in music from a DJ holding forth at a lively open bar in the adjoining alley,  jumbled sound and activity of celebration – all this surely contributed to the women’ movements, their awareness.

Over the course of 10 days, they held events about archiving performance, had conversations about collaboration and women’s friendship, they discussed humor in women’s performance art, and on election night, they talked about whether art can change the world, followed by a reception and public viewing of election night coverage. Daily, Lacy gave Bowers a performance assignment, with the public able to observe, and contribute.

While the artists built knowledge and community, the on-going construction around them is converting the former Farmers & Merchants Bank, the Bankhouse Garage, and the Hellman Building, (currently the space in which Lacy and Bowers are working(and the Bankhouse) into studio space, a sculpture garden, restaurant, and exhibition galleries. 

Go to their website for more information on upcoming events.

Sunday, October 30 – Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Every day from 12 – 8 PM

Related Drawing on View
Wednesday, November 9 – Sunday, November 20, 2016
Wednesday – Saturday from 12 – 8 PM;
Sunday from 12 – 5 PM;
Closed Monday and Tuesday


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