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Betye Saar: Extending the Frozen Moment

March 18 - June 4, 2006


Betye Saar: Extending the Frozen Moment is a major exhibition that surveys the artistic accomplishments of one of the most distinguished figures in American art today. On view at the Norton Museum of Art from March 18 through June 4, 2006, this monographic exhibition, organized by the University of Michigan Museum of Art, is the first to focus on the sustained presence of photography-"the frozen moment" -- as a defining element that unifies Saar's career. (right: Betye Saar (American, born 1926), Midnight Madonnas, 1996. Mixed media assemblage, 14 x 11 by 1 1/2 inches. Courtesy the artist and Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York )

Saar is best known for her richly evocative assemblages, which incorporate found objects and photographic fragments that reflect her interest in nostalgia, memory, and history and serve as a vital metaphor for the African American experience. Including 57 works dating from 1967 to 2004 drawn from public and private collections nationwide, the exhibition offers fresh perspectives on contemporary art, feminism, and American culture and politics.

"As one of the leading artists of our time, Betye Saar is central to understanding American art of the last 40 years. Her use of photography -- one of the most profoundly immediate and powerful media of the last century -- has allowed Saar to merge the historical, the personal, and the universal to make art that is transcendent and somehow remarkably generous," said Christina Orr-Cahall, Director, Norton Museum of Art.

Born in 1926 in Los Angeles, Betye Saar emerged in the 1960s as a powerful figure in the redefinition of African American identity in art and in the making of a socially engaged art. Throughout her career, Saar has injected African American visual histories into mainstream visual culture by blending cultural, political, and spiritual iconography to create complex works with universal impact. Saar's innovative and politically trenchant artwork moves beyond protest to encapsulate what links human beings across cultures and time. She expresses her interest in the past and in memory by including vintage portraits and personal effects in order to challenge stereotypes and reconstruct and reclaim the identities of those lost to history. (right: Betye Saar (American, born 1926), Sambo's Banjo, 1971­72. Mixed-media assemblage, 41 by 14 1/2 x 18 inches. (banjo case); 6 1/2 by 12 3/4 by 2 3/4 inches. (watermelon slice). Collection California African American Foundation, Courtesy California African American Museum )

Highlights from the exhibition include Sambo's Banjo (1971-72), in which the artist transforms a traditional minstrel instrument's case into a repository of derogatory stereotypes and a commentary on lynching; Bittersweet (Bessie's Song) (1973), a touching homage to jazz legend Bessie Smith that incorporates photographs, promotional handbills, and decorative elements; The Loss (1977), a profoundly personal work that includes a torn image of her father and herself sewn onto one of her great aunt's handkerchiefs; Midnight Madonnas (1996), an evocative piece that merges symbols of the mystical with Christianity and African American legacy; and Colored (2002), in which the artist creates a visual metaphor for skin color distinctions by juxtaposing a color spectrum and photographs of African Americans.


Exhibition Catalog:

The exhibition is accompanied by a 176-page hardcover publication with 80 color and 10 black-and-white illustrations. Co-published by UMMA and the University of California Press, essayists include UMMA Director James Steward; Kellie Jones, Assistant Professor of the History of Art and African American Studies at Yale University; Lowery Stokes Sims, President of the Studio Museum in Harlem; Richard Cándida Smith, Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley; and Deborah Willis, Professor of Photography and Imaging at New York University. 


Selected Exhibition Programs:

Marden Gallery Opening
Saturday, March 18, 2:00 p.m.
Echoes: Student Responses to the Works of Betye Saar
Celebrate high school artists from around Palm Beach County whose works are included in this companion exhibition to Betye Saar: Extending the Frozen Moment
Exhibition Lecture Series
Sunday, March 19, 3:00-4:00 p.m.
A Conversation with Betye Saar
Join us for an illustrated conversation with artist Betye Saar as she discusses her career as well as the subjects and inspiration for her art.  Jonathan Stuhlman, The Harold and Anne Berkley Smith Curator of American Art, will lead the discussion. 
First Saturday Family Studio
Saturday, April 1, 10:30 a.m.-12:30p.m.
Mementos of My Family
Betye Saar's beautiful collages often include images of families.  Take a closer look at her work, then assemble keepsakes that capture your own life.  Bring photos and other memorabilia to personalize your collage.  This studio program is recommended for children ages 4 ­ 12 and their parents.  Fee. Call to register: (561) 832-5196, ext. 1133. 
Film: Betye and Alison Saar: Conjure Women of the Arts
Saturday, April 1, 1:00 p.m.
Including footage of the artists working in their studios, this video examines the personal and artistic relationship between mother and daughter, two of America's leading artists.
The Exhibition Lecture Series has been generously underwritten by Harriett M. Eckstein. Family Programs are generously underwritten by The Sarah Vierck Mettler Family Fund, The Andrea and Charles Brandon Fund for Families and the Samuel Rosenthal Endowment for Outreach Programs. 


Exhibition support:

Betye Saar: Extending the Frozen Moment is organized and circulated by the University of Michigan Museum of Art. This exhibition has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, The Henry Luce Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Peter Norton Family Foundation. Support for the local presentation of this exhibition is being provided by The Georgene and Hamish Maxwell Exhibition Endowment and the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:

and these VHS tapes:


Betye & Alison Saar: Conjure Women of the Arts is a 28 minute L&S video, ISBN 1-882660-06-4, created and produced by Linda Freeman and written and directed by David Irving, which examines the personal and artistic relationship between artist Betye Saar and daughter Alison Saar. The artists' enthusiasm and originality make for an engaging and wonderful video. It shows both artists working in their studios, discussing their influences, and collaborating on the installation piece, House of Gris Gris.





Originals: Women in Art, The: 1977: "This series celebrates some of America's most brilliant women artists, both past and present. Producer Perry Miller Adato is widely acknowledged as a leading maker of films on art. In this series she examines the personalities, lifestyles, and work of those American women whose creative talents have made valuable contributions to the visual arts... The series includes Spirit-Catcher: The Art of Betye Saar (28 min) This intriguing film probes the art, the spirit, the symbols, and the revelations of assemblage artist Betye Saar. In developing her art, she has had to face the double prejudices of sexism and racism. What has emerged is the simultaneous penetration of old and new levels of black awareness. Her constructions use astrology, the occult, fetishes, and historical photographs." Quotes are from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.


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