17 March 2016

Alison Saar, Sculptor




If any art work could launch a dozen dissertations it would be a sculpture by Alison Saar.   Saar's sculptures have a way of dominating any gallery.  When I saw her sculpture Bareroot (below) last year at the exhibition One Another: Spiderlike, I Spin Mirrors  at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, it riveted my eyes.  Here in the middle of a large marble gallery modeled on a Greek temple, Erectheion.  A woman, whose extremities appear to have been ripped from the earth, lies curled in upon herself, eyes closed.  She must be cold, traumatized but what - we can only guessHer creator, Alison Saar, makes powerful use of humble materials: wood, bronze, tin, and tar.
In Coup (above), a black woman sits upright on chair, her gaze level and fixed; her braided hair stretches behind her becoming a rope chain that holds together a pile of old suitcases.  She holds a pair of shears in her hands; they are slightly askance as though the woman is ready to cut loose from her baggage.  That baggage is both physical and metaphysical.
The title is surely the key to understanding Saar's intentions although, like any work of art, there are layers of meaning that an attentive viewer could find there.   "Coup  - noun, singular: Among certain Native American peoples, a feat of bravery performed in battle, especially the touching of an enemy's body without causing injury."   Suffering and the ineffable suffuse Saar's figures.  The physicality in Saar's sculptures is her labor in creating them made visible;  she cuts and hammers remnants salvaged from old tin ceilings, twists wires, pounds nails, and saws and sands wood.  Yes, it is possible to use a chainsaw to create works with great spirit.
Saar was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1956.  She includes among her ancestors Native Americans, African Americans, Germans, and Scots. Her mother is the artist Betye Saar. Alison Saar began her art studies by helping her father with his conservation work. She credits this experience with helping her realize her interest in sculpture.   Her work is in many collections including the Museum of Modern Art, Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and her  public commissions are on display in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.

Image:
1. Alison Saar - Coup, 2006, Atkinson Gallery, Santa Barbara.
2. Alison Saar - Bareroot, 2007, Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo.

6 comments:

P.D.Crumbaker said...

What powerful works these are. I'll add her work to an evergrowing list of artists whose work I'd like to experience firsthand.

Jane said...

Welcome, P.D. and thanks for commenting.
If you are an East-coaster, you are definitely in luck. The Metropolitan, MOMA, Brooklyn Museum, Philadelphia,Harvard, the Currier in New Hampshire, and the Hirschhorn in D.C. all have Alison Saar in their collections.

Tania said...

Very impressive sculptures, indeed. Thank you for making us this artist known, Jane.

Jane said...

Tania, you are right, i think. Sarr's works are even more impressive in person. I am grateful that I have seen Bareroot in person. Alison's mother Netye Saar is ve3ry well known in the U.S.

Rouchswalwe said...

Absolutely breathtaking. Bareroot ... wow. I don't even know what to say. Stunning. Seeing it in person must have been quite an experience, dear Jane.

Jane said...

Rouchwalwe, yes, sculpture is best viewed in person but these photographs are still powerful, aren't they? These two, together, show how a person without clothing is still a person and not an object.
One of my other favorite sculptures is "Affection" by William Zorach, a granite piece at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute in Utica. It depicts a little girl with her arms wrapped around her dog - some type of hound, I think. It is very simple and sleek and wonderful. What art to make warmth from cold stone.