Opening Tomorrow: Alison Saar In Print

Alison Saar (b. 1956, Los Angeles) is an American artist known for her sculptures, installations, and prints. Alison Saar In Print, on view through October 2, features 13 prints and three sculptures by the artist, focusing on Saar’s printmaking in relation to her sculptural work.

Installation view of  Alison Saar In Print at NMWA

Installation view of Alison Saar In Print at NMWA

As the daughter of renowned assemblage artist Betye Saar, Alison Saar grew up surrounded by art and became familiar with the process of printmaking through her mother’s work. Saar often creates prints based off of her completed sculptural works. Referring to herself as “a woodcarver primarily,” she began creating woodcut prints because she was already familiar with the process of woodcarving through sculpture. “I could do it at home . . . and so I liked the immediacy of it.  I think I like the way the wood in woodcuts translates my ‘mark,’” says Saar.


Alison Saar, Cotton Eater II, 2014; Woodcut on paper; 72 x 34 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C., Promised gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore; © Alison Saar; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

The accessibility of prints is appealing to Saar, as well as the opportunity to visually rethink her more labor-intensive sculptural works. She says, “Sculptures are always bounded by gravity. . . Whereas prints and drawings allow me to expand into space and create.”

The works on view explore themes of gender, race, culture, and history. Because her work comes from “a very autobiographical place,” Saar often examines her personal experience as a black woman. Bold colors and textural details as well as elements of myth and legend reveal Saar’s interest in a range of cultures—particularly of the African diaspora.

Many of her prints also focus on the female body. Instead of portraying women as objects of desire, Saar depicts female figures that “spoof the odalisques painted by males, making them powerful women who stare down those scrutinizing them.”

“It’s a way to bring inequities and injustices to the forefront and to express things that are not often expressed or are ignored. . . . Exploring these ideas through art sometimes makes it more accessible for people because they don’t have their defenses up,” says Saar.

Like the sculptures that inspire them, Alison Saar’s prints are visually compelling and thematically complex. Her works combine powerful color, texture, and symbolism to draw attention to issues and identities that are often ignored.

Alison Saar In Print is on view in the Teresa Lozano Long Gallery of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, June 10–October 2, 2016. Visit the museum for lunchtime gallery talks about the exhibition Wednesdays July 13 and August 10 at noon.

—Kait Gilioli is the summer 2016 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: May 6, 2016

In the U.S. “only 27% of the 590 major solo shows organized by nearly 70 institutions between 2007 and 2013 were devoted to women.” The Art Newspaper outlines how influential donors, prizes for women, and diversifying museum leadership can help rectify the gender imbalance.

Helen Molesworth, the chief curator of MOCA, says that although the art world is progressive, “that doesn’t set us apart from the larger cultural forces at play, which have for the past several hundred years promoted the idea that genius and men and power and money are all very intertwined with one another.”

Front-Page Femmes

Marisol Escobar, known in the 1960s for her wooden Pop Art sculptures, died at the age of 85.

Adriana Varejão’s hand-painted tile mural covers Rio’s 2016 Summer Olympics aquatics stadium.

Tauba Auerbach makes a large, geometric pop-up book.

Mona Hatoum’s survey includes endoscopic video of her internal organs.

Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani was released from prison.

A fire at German artist Rosemarie Trockel’s home damaged and destroyed more than $30 million worth of art.

Cornelia Parker installed a Hitchcock-inspired barn on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Los Angeles Times traces 89-year-old artist Betye Saar‘s oeuvre through her recent and upcoming exhibitions.

Unnerving, surreal characters in Floria González’s photographs explore the impact of motherhood on her life.

Virginia-based teen Razan Elbaba uses photography to “break the stereotypes and significantly express the true goal of Muslim women.”

Art Basel visitors will help performance artist Alison Knowles toss a giant salad before it is served.

Heather Phillipson’s three-part installation for Frieze New York involves dog sculptures, video, trampolines, pillows and more.

The Guardian shares the @52museums Instagram project—highlighting one of NMWA’s posts.

“It’s so empowering for this generation to see a black ballerina doll that has muscles,” says Misty Copeland about the new Barbie made in her likeness.

NPR describes a new album by Anohni, formerly Antony Hegarty, as “a pop album that is simultaneously an act of dissent.”

Gabriela Burkhalter’s The Playground Project explores forgotten artistic playgrounds of the 20th century.

Sweet Lamb of Heaven, by Lydia Millet, is “an extraordinary metaphysical thriller.”

The New Yorker delves into two articles written by Harper Lee about the case that brought her to Kansas with Truman Capote.

The documentary Eva Hesse, structured around excerpts from her journals, provides a psychological portrait of the artist. Watch the trailer.

Shows We Want to See

Five women artists from the Electric Machete Studios collective locked themselves in their studio for 48 hours. The resulting works reflect the “complex identities of the women as feminists and artists.” Interventions: A Xicana & Boricua Guerrilla Perspective explores the relationship between art, feminism, and indigenous identity.

Abstract work by overlooked Victorian spiritualist Georgiana Houghton will be featured in London. The Guardian writes, “Houghton would host a seance, talk to her spirit guide and draw complex, colourful and layered watercolours.”

Carmen Herrera—now 101 years old—“distills painting to its purest elements.”

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: December 11, 2015

The nominations for the 2016 Golden Globe Awards show recognition of women’s achievements in some categories—but not all.

Three female-led films were nominated for Best Motion Picture, Comedy, or Musical, but no women were nominated for Best Director. Bustle writes that the lack of nominations for women directors is significant because it “brings attention to how few women directors are making movies in the first place.”

Indiewire lists the female-centric films and television shows nominated. Queen Latifah, Viola Davis, Taraji P. Henson, Uzo Aduba, Regina King, and Gina Rodriguez were nominated for their TV performances, while no actresses of color were nominated in the women’s film acting categories.

Front-Page Femmes

Thelma Golden reflects on her ten years as director of the Studio Museum and discusses her hopes to strengthen Harlem’s identity.

Art collector Barbara F. Lee granted the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston a gift of 20 works of art—with an estimated worth of $42 million—by 12 women artists, including Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, and Kara Walker.

artnet shares a list of 20 emerging women artists.

“The only art that matters is about the world,” says American artist Deborah Kass.

Artinfo interviews Cambodian artist Anida Yoeu Ali about her “Buddhist Bug” video work in the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art.

In 1978, at the age of 67, Zofia Rydet attempted to photograph the inside of every Polish household. The Guardian shares a few images from her 20,000-photograph series.

Guardian writer John Mullan argues that Jane Austen’s Emma, published 200 years ago this month, changed fiction as one of the great experimental novels.

Margaret Atwood is writing three graphic novels about a superhero to raise awareness for two animal conservation charities.

Forbes announces Katy Perry as this year’s highest-paid musician in the world.

The Telegraph compiles a list of the 60 greatest female singer-songwriters in history.

The New Yorker raves about Mexico City-based singer-songwriter Carla Morrison’s magnetic, acoustic songs.

Janis Joplin’s psychedelic 1964 Porsche sold for $1.76 million at RM Sotheby’s in New York.

The Chicago Tribune selects the top 10 dance works of the last year—and finds a high number of women involved in the projects.

Shows We Want to See

Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination showcases 22 immersive video installations examining the relationships between human and animal. The Los Angeles Times writes, “Video technology becomes an avenue not for reproducing human vision but for imagining an inhuman one.” As a bonus, watch the trailer for the LACMA exhibition.

A new site-specific installation at the Henry Moore Institute, The Necropolitan Line, is Katrina Palmer’s re-creation of a train station platform.

Betye Saar’s Still Tickin’ showcases the 89-year-old artist’s empowering assemblages and installations that address questions of race and image-makimg.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Fabulous! Portraits by Michele Mattei: Betye Saar

NMWA’s exhibition Fabulous! Portraits by Michele Mattei presents a selection of Michele Mattei’s photographs of women who have shaped contemporary culture. Mattei, who began her career as a journalist before moving into photojournalism and then photography, interviewed her portrait subjects as she was photographing them.
This interview excerpt is a portion of Mattei’s discussion with artist Betye Saar (b. 1926):

Michele Mattei, Betye Saar, 2012; Image © Michele Mattei

Michele Mattei, Betye Saar, 2012; Image © Michele Mattei

Betye Saar [responding to Michele Mattei’s photograph of her]: Your camera has captured longing. It has a pensive quality that I like, and it also reflects my love of nature and of symbols. I always associate God with nature. This longing could be the expression of a desire to be one with God.

…When I was a child, Simon Rodia was building the Watts Towers. My grandmother lived on 113th Street, and we would walk to Watts to go shopping. We would walk over the railroad tracks and there, around a sharp corner, were the Watts Towers; I saw them being constructed. It was as if he were building magic castles. He had these piles of rubble and would go through it sticking all kind of trash, treasures, shards of ceramics in the wet cement. You could not tell me at the time that they were not fairy tales! It was magic, a sort of mystical experience. I’ve seen corncobs in there, I’ve seen tools. I think that was the beginning of me becoming an assemblagist.

Michele Mattei: Have you kept this connection with objects?
BS: Yes, but not in the same way. At a flea market or a shop, I put out my antennae, and I am attracted to certain things. I see it happening with my daughter Alison who also works with found objects. She says, “Oh, I saw this object, and I thought it really belongs to you!” Maybe it is just a sense of awareness.

MM: What is the first piece that you made that exemplifies your political change of consciousness?
BS: The Liberation of Aunt Jemima. It was 1972. Black Mammies were used as objects to hang in the kitchen, to hold a notepad. They had a string coming out of somewhere, a pencil. Those things were invented after slavery was abolished; they could not have actual slaves, so they made replicas to have a black person in the kitchen or a black jockey on their lawn. Those things were cute, charming, with bright color to decorate. Salt and pepper shakers and spice containers. I do not think people were smart enough to be really aware of what they were doing, but surely they were insults to black people. It was entertainment based on servitude.

It became my political goal to change that attitude.

The idea was to take an ordinary object and bring awareness to the horrific history behind it. At that time, it was the sixties. I collected a lot of negative symbols of negative stereotypes—Uncle Tom, Aunt Jemima, Little Black Sambo—and I incorporated them into my assemblages and collages, transforming them into a statement of political outrage.

When I did The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, I chose to take Aunt Jemima out of servitude and to make her a warrior because in real life she could not rebel.

The exhibition Fabulous! Portraits by Michele Mattei is on view at NMWA October 12, 2012–January 13, 2013.