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Downtown's Forthcoming Main Museum Kicks Off With A 10-Day Performance Piece

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Andrea Bowers (top) and Suzanne Lacy (bottom) checking out the scene at the nascent Main Museum. (Photo courtesy of the Main Museum)
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Early reports of the Main Museum, which will be built in the Old Bank District in downtown, suggest that it will be both provincial and inclusive. While it will focus on L.A.-based artists, curator Allison Agsten also told the L.A. Times that it will be "about experimenting and trying things."

While the museum won't be completed until 2020, organizers are preparing to launch "Beta Main," a series of performances and events that give us a preview of the inquisitive spirit that the art space will espouse. The inaugural performance, titled "Performance Lessons: Suzanne Lacy Teaches Andrea Bowers Performance Art," will take place this Sunday at the future site of the museum.

As suggested by the title, Lacy will tutor Bowers on the finer aspects of performance art. Lacy has a background in performance art, and Bowers' field of expertise is in visual art. The setup is a flip of a 2014 performance at The Drawing Center in New York. In that nine-day project, Bowers taught Lacy how to draw.

The Beta Main performance will, similarly, take place over the course of multiple days (October 30 to November 8). The event kicks off on Sunday afternoon with a panel discussion on the idea of teaching performance art. Can it be taught? Can any art be taught, for that matter? After the panel, Lacy and Bowers will jump into their project, where Bowers will wade into uncharted territories as she attempts to learn a new medium.

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Lacy and Bowers, both L.A.-based artists who are friends outside of work, have built a lot of groundwork in their respective fields. Bowers, known for her politically-charged visual art, has been exhibiting her works since the early 90s. Lacy, who's been practicing her art for four decades, came to attention in 1997 with her piece Three Weeks in May. In this work, she put up a map at City Hall tracking the number of rapes that had occurred during three weeks of that month. All this is to say that both Bowers and Lacy have built an impressive body of work, and to try something new at this point is a bold decision (especially so for Bowers, in this case).

"I would like to point out how brave it is for her to be doing this at this stage in her career," said Lacy.

"There's a sense of trepidation," Bowers told LAist. "Honestly I'm so nervous I'm thinking up of ways to cheat." She's joking, or so we think.

Certainly, you can sympathize with Bowers. How it'll all go down is that, each day, Lacy will give Bowers a lesson, and Bowers will then integrate what she'd learned with a performance piece she devises herself. All this will take place in front of a live audience. You can walk into the space anytime from 12p.m. to 8 p.m. to watch the progress (it's free to the public).

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There will also be panel discussions with visiting scholars and artists. And, throughout the project, Lacy and Bowers will be working on drawings, notes, and anything else that may serve as a kind of diary-entry about their progress. These pieces will then go up on a wall as a sort of documentation of the performance. Bowers likens it to "emotional and psychological mapping." This piece, as a whole, will be on display from November 9 to November 20 at the space.

So far, it may sound as if this project has a lot of working parts. But, as Lacy and Bowers informed us, the performance is unified by a couple of overarching themes. For one thing, it will celebrate and contextualize California's rich history with performance art. Lacy notes that in the 60s and 70s, when there was an influx of art school grads, the L.A. area was abound with artists who were experimenting with performance art, and examining its place in an urban setting.

"Performance Lessons" will also speak on on the teacher/student model, and by extension the relationship between two women. "A woman's friendship with another woman, professionally, has fairly political implications," said Lacy, adding that this is a result of how the world regards women in power. Speaking on her friendship with Bowers, Lacy says, "We're both ambitious artists. What does it mean for us? What does it mean for us to have a friendship instead of a competitive relationship?"

"A healthy, supportive model of intergenerational feminism is key here," adds Bowers.

Considering that this project touches on feminism, and that the presidential election will happen on November 8 (the last day of the performance), it's only apropos that there will also be a panel discussion titled "On Politics and Performance" on election day.

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By now you may have figured that "Performance Lessons" is an ambitious piece. But this is exactly what we've been promised ever since the Main Museum was announced, so you could say it's both expected and unexpected.

"Performance Lessons: Suzanne Lacy Teaches Andrea Bowers Performance Art" kicks off on Sunday with a discussion at 1 p.m. at 114 W. 4th Street, downtown. The full performance takes place from October 30 to November 8. It will be open to the public any time from 12 p.m to 8 p.m. everyday. The "map" that will result form this performance will be put up on display from November 9 to November 20. You can visit the Main Museum website for the times of the speaking events that will be interspersed throughout the performance.