Domestic Life

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  • Condition Report

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  • Provenance

    The Artist

  • Exhibited

    Milan, Fondazione Prada, Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer, September 15, 2016 - January 8, 2017

  • Catalogue Essay

    Born 1926, Los Angeles, CA
    Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA

    1949 BA, University of California, Los Angeles, CA

    Selected honors: Edward MacDowell Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts (2014); Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles Distinguished Women in the Arts Award (2013); Anonymous Was A Woman Award (2012)
    Selected museum exhibitions and performances: California African American Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA; Norton Museum of Art, West Palm, Beach, FL; Crocker Museum of Art, Sacramento, CA; The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA
    Selected public collections: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; National Gallery of American Art, Washington, DC; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

    Betye Saar’s work coalesces the “personal” with the “political”, utilizing the intimacy of nostalgia and assemblage to address social inequalities and cultural issues. An instrumental participant in many 20th century artistic moments – including the Black Arts Movement of the 1970s and feminist art – Saar began creating politically-charged collages and assemblages after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Since then, her art has tackled the realities of racism and sexism and has been a mode of processing outrage; the artist has explained that her work looks to answer the questions: “What can you do when you see that violence and racism on television? What do you do with that rage and negativity?”

    Working with myriad media and concepts, Saar has deemed herself a recycler or conjurer. “I recycle things that I find. It’s not only materials, images and objects, but feelings and ideas. I put them together and they turn into an art object, collage, assemblage or installation.” Her technique of salvaging objects at yard and estate sales and transmuting them into three-dimensional contained spaces was influenced by the small-scale intimate box works of Joseph Cornell, an exhibition of which Saar visited at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1967. Cornell’s impact on Saar’s oeuvre is particularly conspicuous in Domestic Life, 2007, which is composed of miniature figures confined by a bird-cage; however, while her predecessor experimented with the fantastical world of Surrealism, Saar’s assemblage addressed the current reality of oppressed identities. “Cages were about incarceration,” she asserted. “Racism is a cage that still prevails.” The exaggerated features of the trapped figures evoke racist stereotypes and depictions of African Americans and their captivity might allude to Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem Sympathy, in which a caged bird symbolizes a chained slave. The metal structure of Domestic Life may also reference one of Saar’s favorite architectural sculptures, the Watts Towers – the landmark of a working class African-American neighborhood famous for the 1965 Watts riots.

    Not only does Domestic Life explore the dialectics of personal / political and private / public, but also that of birth / death. To Saar, the artist is an active resuscitator as opposed to simply a passive recorder of death. “I work with dead objects, with things that people have thrown away: old photographs, and so on,” Saar has said. “But my work is at the crossroads between death and rebirth. Discarded materials have been recycled, so they’re born anew, because the artist has the power to do that.”


Domestic Life

mixed media assemblage
34 1/2 x 17 1/8 x 18 in. (87.6 x 43.5 x 45.7 cm.)
Executed in 2007.

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New York Selling Exhibition 10 January - 8 February 2019