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  • by Jennifer Gunlock, Collections Manager

Exhibitions Around Town: Alison Saar

"Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe"

Armory Center for the Arts

145 North Raymond Avenue

Pasadena, CA 91103

on view through Dec. 12

Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College

120 W. Bonita Avenue

Claremont, CA 91711

On view through Dec. 19

Hailing from what may arguably be the royal family of the Los Angeles contemporary art world, a survey of three decades worth of work by Alison Saar is presented in a two-venue exhibition, hosted by the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena and Benton Museum of Art in Claremont. Born in 1956 to legendary artist Betye and ceramicist/art conservator Richard Saar, Alison and her sisters were raised in a household that encouraged a creative and tactile approach to engaging with the world. This lifelong intimate relationship with materials is evident in her multimedia sculptures and installations that juxtapose heavy, impermeable materials like bronze and plaster with ephemeral gauze and fabrics.

On display at the Benton Museum is an early example of her play with materiality that ultimately becomes her signature style, the diminutive sculpture Voluptuous Mummy, which Saar made in 1982 just following graduate school at Otis Art Institute. Saar made a doll-sized female figure then proceeded to wrap it over and over with old trimmings of linen that she collected from her father's art conservation studio. The figure evokes the famous 25,000 year-old Venus of Willendorf fertility figurine as well as that of Egyptian mummification. The linen layers encasing Mummy completely obscure the common tropes of what defines feminine beauty and desirability.

Courtesy of the artist and L.A. Louver Photo by Ian Byers-Gamber
Hygiea, 2020, Mixed-media installation, dimensions variable

On the other end of Saar's thirty-year career spectrum is the life-size installation Hygiea at the Armory, made last year in direct response to the covid pandemic. Hygiea--the Greek Goddess of health, cleanliness, and sanitation--presents a life-size figure of a cleaning woman who stands boldly before the viewer, staring directly into their eyes. The figure's abstracted, rock-like shape is suggestive of ancient statues of worship, each object in the altar-like space heavy with symbolism.

Alison Saar's sculptures both confront the visitor as well as reveal a touching empathy for her characters. She places underrecognized and undervalued women into the forefront, often in the guise of deities or mythological figures, for them to be seen and acknowledged. Coming from her own mixed-race heritage as well as a multicultural education from her parents, Saar constructs figures who convey archetypes from both the Western and non-Western worlds, which, if one examines closely, ultimately share the challenges and basic needs of all cultures on this earth: sacrifice, endurance, politics and power, fertility, nurturing life, death, and rebirth.

Admission to both venues is free and open by appointment. Click on the above links for more information and to make a reservation. Watch a recent Q&A with the artist and exhibition curators by clicking here.


Courtesy of the artist and L.A. Louver

Photo by Ian Byers-Gamber

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