Legends from Los Angeles
Transformation, empowerment, and the reuse of historical objects characterize the work of Betye Saar, as well as her two daughters, Lezley Saar and Alison Saar. Known for their multi-layered approach to meaning-making, ironic titles, and deep engagement with themes related to gender, identity, mythology, family, and literature, the Saars visually address African American life in America. Each object in this exhibition, all from the Crocker Art Museum’s permanent collection, presents a challenge to racial stereotypes, racism, politics, or art history.
In the 1970s, Betye Saar (born 1926) emerged as part of the Black Arts Movement and remains best known for her collage and assemblage works. Raised in Los Angeles, she worked as an interior designer in the 1950s and shifted to printmaking a decade later. After the Watts Rebellion, commonly known as the Watts Riots, and assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, she began to create assemblage pieces that referenced politics, racism and racist symbols, technology, and memory. She uses her trove of collected/found objects to make works of art infused with stories that have personal meaning or that reimagine racist memorabilia into symbols of empowerment.
Like her mother, Lezley Saar (born 1953) imparts the titles of her artwork with significant meaning. Each piece, which is often a portrait, is “named” rather than “titled” and typically carries with it a short description of the figure. Saar is drawn to outcast characters that appear in literature and individuals who were forced to exist in two worlds during different historical eras. Often working in collage and painting, she mixes mythology and literature into a visual narrative.
The focus on personal reflection and assembly of objects found in Betye Saar’s works has been a touchstone in the career of her daughter Alison Saar (born 1956). Living and working in Los Angeles, Saar is a sculptor, painter, and printmaker particularly interested in themes related to cultural prejudices, politics, and family. She is inspired by African and Haitian folklore, mythology, and contemporary African American life.