PATRON's 2021 August | September Issue

Page 98

FURTHERMORE

CALL AND RESPONSE The working process of the Los Angeles artist Betye Saar is revealed at Nasher Sculpture Center. BY CHRIS BYRNE

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pening September 25, Betye Saar: Call and Response at the Nasher Sculpture Center examines the preparatory sketchbooks the artist made throughout her career in relationship to corresponding sculpture. “The sketch is to remind me how [a piece] is going to look when I get it put together,” Saar has said. The show was originated by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and curated by senior curator of modern art Carol Eliel. A Black woman who grew up in the ’60s in Los Angeles, race, gender, and spirituality play a distinct role in Saar’s oeuvre. Saar’s work is part of the assemblage tradition of Southern California and comprised of symbols and found objects from her travels across the globe—Africa, Mexico, Asia, the Caribbean, and Europe—as well as her LA neighborhood Dr. Leigh Arnold, the associate curator of the Nasher Sculpture Center, sheds light on Saar’s practice. Chris Byrne (CB): It’s exciting that the Nasher Sculpture Center will be hosting Betye Saar’s career-spanning exhibition Call and Response. How did the show come about? Leigh Arnold (LA): Betye Saar is an artist that many of us at the Nasher have been interested in for some time. When LACMA shared their exhibition prospectus with the curatorial team here, it was a no-brainer. CB: I understand you worked with Carol Eliel, the senior curator of modern art at LACMA? LA: When the Nasher came on board as a venue for the touring exhibition, Carol Eliel became my primary contact in understanding the work, the thesis of the exhibition, and also how to develop a layout in the Nasher galleries that would meet with Saar’s approval.

Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic hit at just the moment I was scheduled to visit Los Angeles, meet with Eliel, and see Call and Response in person. I had to cancel my trip, and we have worked together virtually ever since. CB: It’s great that the installation will include the artist’s sketchbooks— beginning in the late 1960s—with her fully realized assemblages. LA: The sketchbooks illuminate how Saar’s ideas for objects shift and take shape, as well as the different contexts that surround them at any given moment in her life. CB: And personal items/found objects were often referenced in the artist’s preparatory drawings and collages? Can you describe her methodolog y? LA: Saar typically starts an artwork with an object, typically sourced during one of her frequent visits to area flea markets and secondhand shops. Sometimes the object will provoke an immediate idea for an artwork, while in other instances, Saar may hold on to that object for weeks, or even years, before incorporating it somehow into a sculptural assemblage. CB: Also, specific images (i.e. eyes, hands, and hearts) seem to be reinterpreted in every medium throughout her career. LA: Saar has a visual vocabulary that she returns to frequently— eyes, hands, and hearts, as you mention, but also celestial bodies and astrological references. These leitmotifs reflect her interest in mysticism and the occult as well as different cultures and spiritualities. While Saar attaches her own meanings to the images—for example, hands symbolize fortune for her—she recognizes their meanings as symbols change depending on the context, location, or culture. Betye Saar: Call and Response will be on view at the Nasher through January 2, 2022. P

Betye Saar, Sketchbook, 2009–2010, 5.5 x 4 in. Collection of Betye Saar. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, © Betye Saar, photograph © Museum Associates/LACMA; Betye Saar, The Edge of Ethics, 2010, mixed-media assemblage, 10.5 x 9.25 x 5.5 in. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, © Betye Saar, photograph © Museum Associates/LACMA; Betye Saar, Sketchbook, 1998, 6 x 3.25 in. Collection of Betye Saar. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, © Betye Saar, photograph © Museum Associates/LACMA; Betye Saar, A Loss of Innocence, 1998, mixed-media installation, 50 x 12 x 12 in. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, © Betye Saar, photograph courtesy Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, AZ, by Tim Lanterman.

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