The Bag Lady (1977)

A meditation on accumulation, alienation, thwart- ed relationships and survival, this performance began when Lacy collected a shopping cart full of trash in Los Angeles that was then shipped to San Francisco’s De Young Museum. In San Fran- cisco, Lacy, dressed as a bag lady carrying several shopping bags, slept in the doorway of the museum as audience members coming to the performance stepped over her. She then entered the museum pushing a shopping cart. The audience followed her as she meandered through the exhibition, stopping repeatedly to rearrange her possessions. A soundtrack featured an old woman’s narrative that recounted, through overhead speakers, anecdotes about trash digging, collect- ing tinsel from discarded Christmas trees, and packaging leftovers from restaurants. At the end of the narrative it becomes clear that the anecdotes are not those of a bag lady but of the artist’s own childhood. The tape-recorded narration de- constructs the making of the performance: Lacy laboriously sorting trash to collect objects; trans- porting them from Los Angeles to San Francisco; and trying for days to make contact with a real bag lady in order to include her stories in the installation. Finally one afternoon as she sat on a park bench in the Civic Center, Lacy saw a bag lady she had tried to approach a few times. From across the park the woman—seemingly oblivious to her surroundings and apparently to no one in particular—began screaming. In a rambling manner that to those nearby must have seemed incoherent, the woman yelled, “You leave us alone, we don’t know anything, we don’t want to...” At this defiant pronouncement, Lacy understood it was directed at her, since she had futilely attempted to engage this woman who didn’t want to be engaged, and that the performance was in fact a self-portrait. 

An exhibition on “The City” at the M.H. de Young Museum of Art Downtown Center, San Francisco.