Other Houses, Other Lives

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  • Condition Report

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, New York

  • Exhibited

    New York, New Museum; New York, The Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art; New York, The Studio Museum, The Decade Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 1980s, May 12 – August 19, 1990 p. 83 (illustrated, plate LXVI)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Betye Saar
    Born 1926, Los Angeles

    1949 BA University of California, Los Angeles
    1958-62 Graduate Studies at California State University, Long Beach; University of Southern California; and California State University, Northridge

    Selected museum exhibitions:
    Craft Contemporary, Los Angeles (2017); Fondazione Prada (2016); Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (2016); California African American Museum, Los Angeles (2011); Crocker Museum of Art, California (2006); Detroit Institute of Arts (1998); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1990); The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (1980); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1977); Whitney Museum of American Art (1975); California State University, Los Angeles (1973)
    Selected honors: MacDowell Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts (2014); Distinguished Women in the Arts Award, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2013); Anonymous Was A Woman Award (2012); Lifetime Achievement Award, Visual Art, California African American Museum (2011); Alain Locke Award, Detroit Institute of Arts (2005); John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1991)
    Selected public collections: Berkeley Art Museum, University of California; Detroit Institute of the Arts; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art; National Gallery of American Art, Washington; Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art

    Betye Saar emerged a key figure in the Black Arts and feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Saar’s distinct vision harmonizes the personal, political, and magical in her assemblages. She was inspired by artists including Joseph Cornell and Noah Purifoy, founding director of the Watts Tower Cultural Center. According to Saar: “I think of my process as a personal ritual: the first part would be finding the materials, the hunting and gathering. I go to thrift and antique stores or estate sales, looking for things and picking objects that have a sense of history or a story to tell. Then I move into the second part of the ritual, which is combining the pieces and manipulating their surfaces so they can tell another story–and let the piece create itself.”

  • Artist Bio

    Betye Saar

    American • 1926

    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. 

    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.

    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.”

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35

Other Houses, Other Lives

signed and dated “Betye Saar 82” lower side panel
assemblage and mixed media
18 1/4 x 11 1/4 x 2 1/2 in. (46.4 x 28.6 x 6.4 cm.)
Executed 1982.

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NOMEN: American Women Artists from 1945 to Today

New York Selling Exhibition 19 June - 3 August 2019