10386 - 20170108 - Comprehensive survey of work by Betye Saar at Fondazione Prada - Milan - 15.09.2016-08.01.2017


View of the installation: Betye Saar The Alpha and the Omega , 2013-2016. Photo: Roberto Marossi Courtesy Fondazione Prada.
Fondazione Prada presents the exhibition “Uneasy Dancer”, a comprehensive survey of work by Betye Saar (Los Angeles, 1926). This exhibition, hosted at the Nord Gallery, opens to the public from 15 September 2016 through 8 January 2017. Curated by Elvira Dyangani Ose, “Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer” is the first exhibition of the American artist in Italy, and brings together over 80 works including installations, assemblages, collages and sculptures produced between 1966 and 2016.

“Uneasy Dancer” is an expression Betye Saar has used to define both herself and her artistic practice. In her own words, “my work moves in a creative spiral with the concepts of passage, crossroads, death and rebirth, along with the underlying elements of race and gender.” This process implies “a stream of consciousness” that explores the ritualized mysticism present in recovering personal stories and iconographies from everyday objects and images. Several key elements lie at the center of her artistic practice: an interest in the metaphysical, the representation of feminine memory, and African-American identity which, in her work, takes on takes on evocative and unusual forms. As Saar has said about her work, “It was really about evolution rather than revolution, about evolving the consciousness in another way and seeing black people as human beings instead of the caricatures or the derogatory images.”

Betye Saar’s earliest artistic memory was stimulated by the Towers of Simon Rodia in Watts, a suburb of Los Angeles she frequented with her Grandmother in the 1930’s. The construction of the Watts Towers, built over a period of 33 years, was decisive in introducing ideas of how found materials embody both the spiritual and technological. After graduating from UCLA with a degree in design, Saar initially worked as a graphic artist before dedicating herself to printmaking, drawing and collage. In the late 1960s, inspired by American Joseph Cornell, Saar’s work in mixed media became increasingly three-dimensional, ultimately taking form as assemblages by the end of the decade.

Through her confident usage of found objects, personal memorabilia and derogatory images that evoke denied or distorted narratives, Saar developed a powerful social critique that challenges racial and sexist stereotypes deeply rooted in American culture. In the 1970s, her assemblages began to grow in scale, ultimately becoming substantial installations and immersive environments that speak to an approach uniting spiritual beliefs and faiths of all kind – from the intimate and the mysterious to the universal - alongside politicized convictions.

Curator Elvira Dyangani Ose notes, “Saar’s works blur boundaries between art and life, between physical and metaphysical. Spirituality in her work, does not only resides in the works with which she addresses her concerns and her knowledge on a myriad of traditions. On the contrary, it is to be found in the artistic exercise of transforming common material in a sort of evocative new imagery, involving the viewer in reminiscent fabulations of the real.”