Call and Response

Eyes of the Beholder by Betye Saar
paint on metal and wood serving tray, with painted metal baking pan and metal ornaments; 1994. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California. Photography by © Museum Associates/LACMA, © Betye Saar.


Betye Saar: Call and Respose

at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York, New York, USA
12 September 2020-31 January 2021

Best known for incisive collages and assemblages that confront and reclaim racist images, Betye Saar (born in 1926) emerged in the 1960s as part of a wave of artists, many of them African American, who embraced the medium of assemblage. She went on to become one of the most significant artists working in this medium today. “Call and Response” is the first exhibition to focus on Saar’s sketchbooks and examine the relationship between her found objects, sketches, and finished works.

The daughter of a seamstress, and a printmaker by training, Saar brings to her work a remarkable sensitivity to materials, and she draws her imagery from popular culture, family history, and a wide range of spiritual traditions. Her creative process starts with a found object: a piece of leather, a cot, a tray, a birdcage, an ironing board. The objects she chooses are ordinary, used, and slightly debased—things most people would simply pass by. After identifying a primary object that calls to her, Saar surveys her stockpile of other found materials for use in combination. Once she has arrived at a vision of the final work, she responds with a sketch in which she lays out her ideas for the finished work.

Sketchbook page for Eyes of the Beholder by Betye Saar
watercolor and ballpoint pen; November 6, 1994. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California. © Betye Saar.

Saar has kept such sketchbooks throughout her career. She has also kept more elaborate travel sketchbooks containing exquisite watercolors and collages—often relating to leitmotifs seen across her oeuvre—from a lifetime of journeys worldwide. “Betye Saar: Call and Response” presents Saar’s sketches and corresponding assemblages alongside approximately a dozen of her travel sketchbooks. Selections cover a broad span of her career, from the 1970s through a sculptural installation made specifically for this exhibition, in addition to collages from the Morgan’s collections that have never before been displayed.

Organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and curated by Carol S. Eliel, Senior Curator of Modern Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the exhibition at the Morgan is coordinated by Dr. Rachel Federman, the Morgan’s Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Drawings. As a supporter of Saar’s work, the Morgan acquired a series of six collages that are displayed in full for the first time as part of this exhibition. A Secretary to the Spirits (1975) is the outcome of an invitation by author and activist Ishmael Reed (b. 1938) to create a series of collages for his poetry book of the same name. In another form of “call and response,” each of Saar’s collages is based on and named for one of Reed’s poems. Saar employed a layered approach to echo Reed’s poetry, which combines references to the ancient and the contemporary, the spiritual and the mundane.

(Text adapted from the museum’s press materials)


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