Betye Saar

November 21, 2018

 

1st image 640 Betye Saar Lost Innocence

Betye Saar, A Loss of Innocence

The image above is an installation piece by Betye Saar (American, born 1926) titled “A Loss of Innocence” (1998). It’s a chair and dress, 50x12x12 inches. The image is included in a Hyperallergic review of her exhibition STILL TICKIN: Six Decades of Betye Saar’s Personal, Political and Mystical Art at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (Jan 30-May 1, 2016). A Loss of Innocence includes a delicate white dress with short, capped sleeves on a wood hanger suspended from a wire directly above a tiny doll-size chair sitting on a low wood pedestal. The chair is a tiny shrine. The dress cast two shadows that spread from the floor to the walls. One shadow looks eerily like a lynched body. The Scottsdale Museum says “There is a touch of alchemy to Betye Saar’s artwork: transforming the simple and mundane into powerful art.” Saar’s art tackles issues of spirituality, race, equality, family relationships and autobiography. Every work is poignant, evocative and emotional.

Betye Saar was born in Los Angeles, CA in 1926. She graduated from UCLA in 1947 with a B.A. degree in design and began her work in the visual arts as a graphic designer and costume maker — a trade that is deeply personal to her because her mother was a seamstress. She continued graduate studies, working toward a career in teaching design. She took an elective course in printmaking that allowed her to segue from design into fine arts. She began making politically themed artwork after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Watts Riots. Saar taught art in Los Angeles at UCLA and the Otis Art Institute. Saar’s works are included in the permanent collections in museums worldwide, including 3 works in the collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art in NY. Saar married and raised 3 daughters. Saar received two National Endowment for the Arts Awards, in 1974 and 1984. In 2008, she was recognized for her career in art and community activism and awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus.

Betye Saar lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.

 

2nd image 640 betye saar aunt jemima

Betye Saar, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima

In 1967 Saar saw an assemblage by Joseph Cornell at the Pasadena (CA) Art Museum and was inspired to make art out of all the bits and pieces of her own life. She began making assemblages in 1967. She had been collecting images and objects since childhood. She came from a family of collectors. In the 1960s, Saar began collecting images of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Tom, Little Black Sambo and other stereotyped African-American figures from advertising during the Jim Crow era.

The image above is titled The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972). It’s the first piece Saar made that was politically explicit. Saar said: “My work started to become politicized after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. But The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, which I made in 1972, was the first piece that was politically explicit.There was a community center in Berkeley, on the edge of Black Panther territory in Oakland, called the Rainbow Sign. They issued an open invitation to black artists to be in a show about black heroes, so I decided to make a black heroine.” Read about the Rainbow Sign invitational here. She added: “For many years, I had collected derogatory images: postcards, a cigar-box label, an ad for beans, Darkie toothpaste. I found a little Aunt Jemima mammy figure, a caricature of a black slave, like those later used to advertise pancakes. Saar added: “She had a broom in one hand. I gave her a rifle. In front of her, I placed a little postcard, of a mammy with a mulatto child, which is another way black women were exploited during slavery.I used the derogatory image to empower the black woman by making her a revolutionary, like she was rebelling against her past enslavement.When my work was included in the exhibition ‘WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution’, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2007, the activist and academic Angela Davis gave a talk in which she said the black women’s movement started with my work The Liberation of Aunt Jemima. That was a real thrill.”

In American popular culture the mammy figure was a depiction of servility. Saar turned her Aunt Jemima into a warrior, brandishing weapons, contending with injustice, facing the darkest chapters of American history. The Liberation of Aunt Jemima is in the permanent collection of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. It’s Saar’s  most iconic piece. Photo: Benjamin Blackwell, courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, LA, CA.  Read more about how Betye Saar transformed the Aunt Jemima image into a symbol of black power in an artsy.net review here.

 

3rd image 640 betye saar in 1970

Betye Saar in 1970

The image above shows a young Betye Saar in 1970 in a room she used as an art studio.

 

4th image 640 betye saar keeping it clean

Exhibition installation: Keeping It Clean

The image above is an installation view of the exhibition Keeping It Clean at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles (May 28-August 20, 2017). The solo show presented a mix of new and historic works that included Saar’s ongoing series of washboard assemblage sculptures, begun in the late 1990s.

In a review in the contemporary art magazine Art and Cake (June 28, 2017), Shana Nys Dambrot wrote: The washboard is a perfect object for Saar’s creative enterprise, whose particular magic has been the fusion of aesthetic, narrative, politics, and innovation into singular objects that triumph at all their tasks in art and in society.” In Saar’s own words, the new pieces are intended as reminders “that America has not yet cleaned up her act.”

Betye Saar also said: “I wanted to do an exhibition of my washboards because they are intimate and hands-on…It’s a body of work that I am still making, and the new works are inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. People think racism happens everywhere else, but racism still exists in Los Angeles.”

 

5th image 640 betye saar mother and children

Betye Saar, Mother and Children in Blue

The image above is titled Mother and Children in Blue (1998), watercolor and mixed media collage on paper, 8 5/8 x 6 ½ inches, permanent collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY – purchased with funds from the Drawing Committee.

 

6th image 640 betye saar locksmith

Betye Saar, Locksmith

The image above is titled Locksmith (2018), Mixed Media assemblage with metal frame, antique door locks, metal keys and vintage photograph, 14 x 11 ¾  inches.

 

7th image 640 betye saar uneasy dancer

Betye Saar, Uneasy Dancer

The image above is titled Uneasy Dancer – Sock it to “Em (2011). It’s a red leather boxing glove with a watch on the wrist band and a mammy figure in a red dress tucked inside on top. The time on the watch is stopped at 5 minutes after 5.  “Uneasy Dancer” is an expression Betye Saar has used to define both herself and her artistic practice. I found this image in a review for Saar’s first exhibition in Milan, Italy installed at Fondazione Prada (15 Sep 2016 – 08 Jan 2017).  Read more here.

 

8th image 640 betye saar indigo illusions

Betye Saar, Indigo Illusions

The image above is titled Indigo Illusions (1991), mixed media assemblage with neon. This work was included in an exhibition titled “Betye Saar: Something Blue” at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles (Oct 27-Dec 15, 2018). All the works were made between 1983 and 2018 and all feature the color blue. Roberts Projects is Betye Saar’s gallery in CA and the exhibition was organized to show how she uses blue as a means to explore concepts of magic, voodoo and the occult.

 

9th image 640 betye saar photo for Getty

Betye Saar in 2016

The image above is dated 2016 and shows Betye Saar in her studio with all her stuff. Photo: Ashley Walker, courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles.

The Getty Research Institute (GRI) in Los Angeles is launching an African-American Art History initiative and has acquired the archive of works by Betye Saar as a first step. The GRI will help other museums preserve and digitize their own archives, and is working with the Studio Museum in Harlem, the California African American Museum, Art + Practice in Los Angeles, and Spelman College in Atlanta on this project.

 

NEWS

The Brooklyn Museum has installed Saar’s works in an exhibition titled Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (through February 3, 2019).  Saar also has a solo show titled Keepin’ It Clean at the New York Historical Society (November 12, 2018-May 27, 2019).

In a recent interview for the Los Angeles Times, Betye Saar said: “When you’re 92, it takes a lot to get you excited. I paid my dues, and now I’m reaping the rewards…I’m very happy that anybody can go to the Getty Research Institute to discover my work, not just the art community. It’s my contribution.

 

I am writing a book about women artists who create with collage, assemblage, photo collage and/or installation art. One chapter will be devoted to the artist Betye Saar. Please contact me if you have spoken with her – and thank you.

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Sunday, March 9, 2014 was the closing day for contemporary and modern art at Armory Week in NYC.

My previous post included images and comments about the opening night for the Hullaballoo Collective at FOUNTAIN (downtown Armory), including links from hyperallergic.com to information about all the Armory Week fairs.

Fountain is located at the 69th Regiment Armory, 25 Street and Lexington Avenue – it’s the site of the original 1913 Armory show.

I didn’t get to see all the fairs but did get to the uptown Armory show at 68th Street and Lexington Avenue, the site for the  ADAA (Art Dealers Association of America). Downtown Armory includes emerging artists. Uptown Armory includes national galleries who are ADAA members. Read about the ADAA here.

In upcoming blogs, I plan to write about 2 wonderful artists I met at FOUNTAIN (downtown Armory show), and the galleries I visited and fabulous collage art works I saw at ADAA (uptown Armory show). FYI: I saw 3 Romare Bearden collages at 3 different galleries at the ADAA show. Each one was a museum quality masterwork.

Sunday March 9, 2014

I arrived at Fountain Sunday about 4 pm and saw a crowded booth, crammed with artists and visitors looking at the art and talking in animated conversation.

Bernard Klevickas at Hullaballoo 2014

Bernard Klevickas at Hullaballoo 2014

This image above – the smiling man – is Bernard Klevickas. He organized the Hullaballoo Collective show at Fountain. I say he is the main person responsible for its success. The image is courtesy of Linda Tharp.

This is not the first show for Hullaballoo Collective at FOUNTAIN, and Bernard Klevickas is the point man, the person responsible for initiating and coordinating the project each time. Everyone in the Collective is  grateful for his skill, patience and dedication. We applaud him and thank everyone who helped with the show – the curator and people who worked long hours to hang, label, attend and promote the exhibition.

I didn’t get a good picture of Bernard standing next to his sculpture, so didn’t include my photo here. What you see is a group photo with Bernard taken by Linda Tharp.

Linda’s image above shows Bernard looking relaxed with artists and guests in the booth at Fountain. Notice his work on the wall behind his shoulder. It’s the small reflective metal sculpture in the far corner.

See even better images of Bernard’s sculpture here, including larger works – all shiny, contemporary metal and abstract.

Salon-Style

What is Salon Style? It’s a way to hang art, used typically for large group exhibitions where the works are arranged side by side and hung one on top of the other. Salon style dates back to the year 1670 and the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture (they crammed in student  work in order to include it all). It had never been done before that time. The other way to hang art is call museum style.

At Hullaballoo, the curator mixed and matched two-dimensional works in all different media (paintings, prints, photos, collage, mixed media) with three- dimensional sculpture in all media, and also included floor installation with free-standing sculpture and works on pedestals. The booths had tall walls and generous space so a lot of work could be included.

closing day Hullaballoo Collective 2014

closing day Hullaballoo Collective 2014

In the image above you see a view from the Hullaballoo booth to booths beyond. Notice the art is all colorful and contemporary, all hung salon style. Image courtesy of Linda Tharp. See Linda’s work here.

Installation is an art

In my previous blog, I wrote that Marion Callis curated the installation this year, and credited her with an amazing job – placing so many works in the space in a way that was visually pleasing to everyone (artists and guests). I believe installation is an art form. People who do it well have a unique talent.

Hullaballoo Collective group photo

Hullaballoo Collective group photo

The image above shows almost everyone in a group photo at the end of the day. Image courtesy of Vincent Tsao.

Hullaballoo Collective taking down the show

Hullaballoo Collective taking down the show

The image above shows the Hullaballoo booth after the Armory show closed. Artists started to dismantle the exhibition. Notice that many works are removed from walls and pedestals, and artists are preparing to wrap their works to take home. Image courtesy of Linda Tharp.

Hullaballoo Collective dismantling the show

Hullaballoo Collective dismantling the show

The image above is another view of the booth and shows Hullaballoo artists wrapping their art as the installation is taken down late Sunday afternoon. Image courtesy of Linda Tharp.

Leaving the Armory show

Leaving the Armory show

The image above shows artists carrying their work from the Armory to the street after the show closed. Image courtesy of Linda Tharp.

I love all the architectural details in this photo. Notice the bronze number 69 in the floor of the entry to the 69th Regiment Armory and notice the great double doors into the great hallway. How vintage!

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I didn’t get to the Pier 92 and Pier 94 Armory shows. They were huge. One was modern art. One was contemporary art.

I decided to go to the uptown ADAA show and thought it was fabulous, for two reasons –  I saw works by great artists, many not seen by the public before – and I got to speak with gallery representatives about the artists and the works. Most of the galleries at ADAA show are located in NYC and I plan to visit them more often.

Please tell me if you attended the Armory shows at Piers 92 and 94, and include comments about what you liked and what you saw.

Small Scale Collage

January 24, 2013

Next week I will teach a workshop in paper collage at Iona Collage in New Rochelle, NY.  

I will be a substitute for their regular teacher, and I want the class project to be fun, quick and easy to do – and engage them in making a collage right there.

I will provide each student with a 6 x 9 inch exhibition postcard for them to work on.

They will use magazines for source media, and work with scissors and glue sticks to cut and paste papers. I will show sample postcards with collage that I prepare for them.

I will talk about the history of collage (and will not talk too much) while they are working on their project.

Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque are credited with the invention of modern collage (1912-1914). The English word collage comes from the French words papiers colle (glued paper), a term coined by the Cubists. People who paste paper may also paste photos, fabric and 3D materials like wood, plastic, metal etc.

Many books on contemporary art describe COLLAGE as a medium of surface planes that explore sub-surfaces. Many books also discuss collage as a medium that comments on waste and rampant consumer consumption. A lot of collage is about politics and identity. It’s always about narrative and media.

Basically, I want to say that there is so much potential collage media out there to recycle into art.  I think the idea of recycling and consumer consumption will appeal to this age demographic.

Nancy Egol Nikkal, collage on a card 1, 6x4, 2013

Nancy Egol Nikkal, collage on a card 1, 6×4, 2013

How about creating cards with collage?

I think we all have too much paper in our lives. But, I also think every piece of junk mail is a potential substrate (base) for collage, or can serve as paper to cut and paste onto something else.

Do you get postcard announcements for consumer goods in the mail? Do you get glossy multi-page home goods and fashion catalogs in the mail? It’s all potential collage media.

In my collage classes, I talk about 3Rs – reuse, repurpose and recycle.

Nancy Egol Nikkal, card with collage 2, 4x5, 2013

Nancy Egol Nikkal, collage on a card 2, 4×5, 2013

What about the holiday cards you received this year? Don’t throw them out. Recycle the castaways and use collage to create your own work of art. Cover the base with a little collage or cover it with a lot (but leave a little of the original card peeking through) to show the juxtaposition of the old with the new media.

Free Paper Bonanza

Last year I was gallery hopping in Chelsea (NYC). It was the closing day for the exhibition at one gallery, and I noticed a pile of really good, heavy weight exhibition announcement cards sitting on top of the counter where the gallery people sit.  The cards were an elegant graphic (text) printed on lovely white stock.

As soon as I found out it was the last day for the exhibition, I asked if I could have the cards. They said yes.

Nancy Egol Nikkal, collage on a card 3, 4x6, 2013

Nancy Egol Nikkal, collage on a card 3, 4×6, 2013

Theme and Variation

I like the idea of theme and variation. I start with the same base image. It can be an exhibition postcard (from my exhibitions) or a greeting card I’ve reproduced from my collage paintings.

Do you make your own cards? Do you reproduce your images into cards? Use the cards as a base for multiple collages. The new little collages can become the inspiration for new large works.

All the images included in this post are my tiny collages made with magazine papers on top of my printed 2013 New Years card. The card is a reproduction of a large painted paper collage I did last year. The card is small, about 4×6 inches. I added up to 10 collage pieces (very tiny pieces) per card. The imagery on the original was very geometric, so I planned to use rounded shapes and circular lines as a counter-balance to the straight edges. I did about 20 collage on cards and sent the cards to people who send me hand-made cards.

Nancy Egol Nikkal, collage on card 4, 4"x6", 2013

Nancy Egol Nikkal, collage on card 4, 4×6, 2013

I found a very interesting interview online titled “What’s New With Collage?” by Hrag Vartanian who interviewed Charles Wilkin at Hyperallergic.com (Oct. 25, 2011)

Wilkin curated an exhibition in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (NY) titled All That Remains, at the Picture Farm Gallery.

Vartanian asked: “What do you think is unique about collage today, if anything?”

Wilkin said: “One of the exciting things about collage is its primary use of discarded paper media which ultimately keeps it in motion, constantly changing like a chameleon. A quick look at the diversity of styles, concepts and technique found in contemporary collage proves it’s moved well beyond simply cut paper and glue.

He added: “I suspect many artists find it alluring for not only its immediacy but its unique and inherent nature to reinvent the familiar into something mysteriously new.”

Read more…

Thanks for reading. Please let me know how you recycle papers into art with collage.