One afternoon in the early ’90s, the banking consultant Rudy Estrada returned to his mansion in Pasadena, Calif., to find two members of the local sheriff’s department standing over a lightly built African-American man spread-eagled on his front lawn.
Betye Saar has lived in the same shingle-clad house up a winding lane in Laurel Canyon for nearly 60 years. To reach the front door, on the house’s top story, visitors ascend several flights of steps, passing the kind of thickly planted garden—filled with ornaments and trinkets—that can only be created with decades of care and cultivation.
Saar moved to Laurel Canyon with her former husband, Richard, and three daughters in the early 1960s, shortly before the Hollywood Hills became the nexus of Los Angeles’ hippie music scene. Frank Zappa lived in a log cabin just a few doors down, and Neil Young, Brian Wilson, and Joni Mitchell were also neighbors. The Saars were a hip, artistic family: Betye was a printmaker and designer, and Richard a ceramicist and art conservator. They led a comfortable middle-class life but were far from famous. As with most Black artists of her generation—and virtually all female artists—Saar made her way outside of what little limelight shone on the local art scene. For years, she didn’t even consider herself a real artist.
Betye Saar, Pause Here – Spirit Chair, 1996, Mixed media assemblage with metal garden chair and neon, 31.5 x 24.5 x 20.5 in
Betye Saar’s double exhibition at Roberts & Tilton coincides with the opening of her career survey at the Fondazione Prada, Milan. The first exhibition, titled Black White (which opened a month before the second exhibition), is a more concise presentation in the gallery’s project space that arranges assemblage sculptures and collages spanning from the present back to an early etching by the artist – now a nonagenarian – from 1964. Blend, the second and more generously spaced display (actually including fewer works), occupies the main gallery. Its focus is the major mixed media installation Mojotech (1987), which stretches nearly 7.5 metres along one wall and was the outcome of a residency Saar undertook at the List Visual Arts Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in Cambridge. Read the rest of this entry »