Roberts Projects presents Something Blue, an exhibition of selected artworks by Betye Saar from 1983 to 2018.
All of the works on view feature the color blue as a means to explore such concepts as magic, voodoo, and the occult. In her new assemblages dating from 2018, Saar revisits the holistic inclusion of various religious objects, totems, talismans, and charms in the materiality and temporality of her work. This focus on the mystic shares space with her familiar motifs including derogatory black collectibles, outlines of her hand, and personal and familial objects.
An avid printmaker starting in the 1960’s, much of the imagery in Saar’s work at the time was culled from palmistry charts, phrenology maps, and astrological diagrams. This informal study of alternative belief systems has influenced Saar’s work from its early beginning. Likened to ritual, Saar’s process combines magical themes derived from occult philosophy with a distinct West Coast sensibility to explore concepts of ritual and community, inherited traditions, and how objects can retain the memories and histories of their owners. Mysticism also figures prominently in her work in the guise of cosmological elements to explore the passage of time and the guiding hand of fate.
Voodoo is a culture, religion, and a way of life transmitted across generations that was transported to the Americas through slavery. Although slave owners throughout the American South worked to convert their slaves to Christianity, slaves found ways to continue their faiths, some by syncretizing their pantheon of gods with the saints. A product of mixed beliefs that include pagan traditions, ancient worship, and elements of European religions, Voodoo invokes the power of the Loas in African gods and deities; Saar includes the distinctive symbols in service of individual gods. Just as specific symbols, objects, chants and drum beats appeal to specific Loa, so too do colors. Saar incorporates shades of blue – representing purity, love, fidelity, and protection against the Evil Eye – in her potent new assemblages.
Something Blue is the artist’s sixth solo show with the gallery.
Betye Saar (b.1926) is one of the most important artists of her generation, playing a seminal role in the development of Assemblage art. Since the 1960s, her work has reflected on African-American identity, spirituality and the connectedness between different cultures.
Saar’s work can be found in the permanent collections of more than 60 museums, including Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others.
In September 2018, The Getty Research Institute announced the creation of an African American Art History Initiative with the acquisition of Saar’s archives. The Betye Saar Papers range from 1926 to the present covering her entire career and her life as an artist. The archive includes documentation of Saar’s prolific artistic production and her notable works in diverse media: sketchbooks of ideas, concepts, and Saar’s travels; prints and drawings; book illustrations and commercial graphics, as well as profuse documentation of her assemblages and installations.
Forthcoming exhibitions include “Betye Saar: Keepin’ It Clean” New York Historical Society Museum and Library, New York, NY, (November 2, 2018 – March 17, 2019), catalogue; “Call and Response: Betye Saar’s Sketchbooks & Beyond”, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA (Fall 2019), catalogue, (traveling to the Morgan Library, New York, NY); and “By Any Means: Modern and Contemporary Drawings from The Morgan”, The Morgan Library and Museum, New York, NY.
Recent solo exhibitions include “Betye Saar: Mojotech” National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland (October 20, 2018 – April 28, 2019). Other recent exhibitions include “Outliers and American Vanguard Art” National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, (January 28 – May 13, 2018), catalogue (traveling to the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA); “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965 – 85” Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY (February 17 – May 27, 2018), catalogue; “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY (September 7, 2018 – February 3, 2019), catalogue (traveled from Tate Modern, London, England, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark, and forthcoming at The Broad, Los Angeles, CA); and “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965 – 85” Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA, (June 26 – September 30, 2018), catalogue (traveled from Brooklyn Museum, NY).
Saar received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1949, with graduate studies at California State University at Long Beach, the University of Southern California and California State University at Northridge. She has been awarded honorary doctorate degrees by California College of Arts and Crafts, California Institute of the Arts, Massachusetts College of Art, Otis College of Art & Design, and San Francisco Art Institute.Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California