Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe
The Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena and the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College, (formerly Pomona College Museum of Art) in Claremont are partnering to present “Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe,” an exhibition of artist Alison Saar’s work connected to myths and archetypes, invisible bodies and hidden histories, and timeless paradigms of grounding and transformation. Highlighting the dualities that are woven throughout her art, “Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe” explores and complicates the binaries of body and spirit, earth and air, personal and universal.
The exhibition title, “Of Aether and Earthe,” with its esoteric, alchemical connotations emphasizes this idea of dualities. In ancient and medieval science, aether represented the fifth element—a cosmic essence that exists in and around the other elements of earth, water, air, and fire. For Saar, this title suggests transformations of elemental properties: with aether representing the spiritual and non-material, and earthe—with the archaic spelling—suggesting a rootedness to physical materials.
“Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe”—one exhibition at two venues—will offer a survey of Saar’s sculptures, installations, paintings, and drawings. The Armory will showcase work that suggests elements of fire, air, and aether, while the Benton will highlight work that emphasizes grounded, earthly, and watery qualities.
Saar will create a new public artwork at Pomona College’s Benton Museum. The sculpture, a 12-foot-tall figure, represents Yemaja, a Yoruba deity, the goddess of all waters and mother of all living things. Yemaja is found throughout Africa and the Americas, and a protector of women and children with cleansing and healing attributes. The exhibition of sculptures and paintings will also include studies and maquettes related to this new work, providing insight into Saar’s research practice and artistic process.
The exploration of Saar’s process connects with the Armory’s interest in inclusive dialogue at the intersection of art, education, and community. The Armory will highlight a selection of Saar’s site-responsive installations and sculptures created by Saar over 30 years, such as Sapphire (1985), which depicts a female bust whose breasts have been built to serve as doors that open to a fiery heart, along with the restaging of Catfish Dreamin, a mobile sculpture of a house and 6-foot catfish that are mounted on a pickup truck, which will travel between the Armory and the Benton. The missions of the Armory and the Benton at Pomona College—art institutions rooted in education—reinforce Saar’s vision of providing critical insight into history and contemporary narratives.
Pomona College will publish the monographic catalog that will accompany the exhibition. The Fellows of Contemporary Art (FOCA) awarded the 2020 Curator's Award to Rebecca McGrew at the Pomona College Museum of Art and Irene Tsatsos at the Armory Center for the Arts as co-curators of this exhibition. Supported by this award, the book is edited by McGrew and Saar and includes an essay by Christina Sharpe, professor in the Department of Humanities at York University; an introduction by McGrew; a conversation with Alison Saar and Tsatsos; an in-depth personal artist timeline authored by Saar and including never-before-published early photographs of Saar's childhood; and poems by Camille Dungy, Harryette Mullen, and Evie Shockley. Kimberly Varella of Content Object, Los Angeles, will design the 192-page book.
Coinciding with the exhibition at the Armory and Pomona College’s Benton Museum, the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College will host a traveling exhibition of Saar’s prints and sculptures from the Jordan Schnitzer Collection in Portland, Oregon. “Mirror Mirror: The Prints and Sculpture of Alison Saar from the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation” will be on view from September 1 to December 19, 2020.
About the Artist
Los Angeles-based artist Alison Saar has a transformative practice, telling stories through figurative forms that focus on personal and cultural narratives. Inspired by her mother, artist Betye Saar, and her father Richard Saar, a ceramist and art restorer, Saar grew up surrounded by creativity. With her use of distinctive forms and materials, she creates powerful figurative sculptures, paintings, and prints that activate histories and legacies of survival. Saar transforms her figures by bestowing agency and strength, often arming them with personal belongings or tools to center their tenacity, resilience, and communal significance. Saar graduated from Scripps College in 1978, and received her M.F.A. from Otis Art Institute in 1981.
About the Partners
The Armory Center for the Arts, in Pasadena, California, is one of the Los Angeles region’s leading independent institutions for contemporary art and community arts education. For more information on the Armory Center for the Arts, visit https://www.armoryarts.org.
Opening in fall 2020, the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College, in Claremont, California, is the primary visual art facility of Pomona College. The Benton Museum of Art will present the region’s most compelling and innovative exhibitions. For more information, visit www.pomona.edu/museum.
The Fellows of Contemporary Art’s (FOCA’s) Curators Award underwrites the cost of the exhibitions and scholarly catalogs of California artists developed by California curators for major museums and other art venues. FOCA is a non-profit, independent, and membership-based organization that supports contemporary art in California. For more information on FOCA, visit http://focala.org.