Betye Saar: Black Doll Blues brings together a selection of new watercolor works on paper, portraits of Saar’s personal collection of Black dolls. Referencing the underrepresented history of Black dolls as seen through Saar’s artistic lens, the works on view distill several intersecting themes, imagery, and objects in Saar’s oeuvre, highlighting her prominent usage and reinvention of derogatory imagery.
From 1880s European brown bisque dolls to dolls hand-made with found materials by enslaved people up to more recent examples such as Mattel’s 1968 first Black Barbie(TM) (Christie) or Addie of the American Girl Dolls, Black dolls often embodied the experiences and narratives of those who made them and/or received them. The Black dolls represent and reflect part of historical Black American culture.
Characterizing Saar's unique practice, these watercolors showcase the artist’s experimentation with vivid colors, layered techniques, and new interest in flat shapes. While Saar has previously used painting in her mixed media collages, this is her first exhibition focusing on her watercolor works on paper. The exception in this exhibition is Rock-a-bye Black Babies, a tableau that features a child’s rocker holding dolls from Saar’s personal collection.
About the Artist
As one of the artists who ushered in the development of Assemblage art, Betye Saar’s practice reflects on African American identity, spirituality and the connectedness between different cultures. Her symbolically rich body of work has evolved to demonstrate the environmental, cultural, political, racial, technological, economic, and historical context in which it exists.
For over six decades, Saar has created work that explores the social, political, and economic underpinnings of America’s collective memory. Early in her career, her work dealt with themes of mysticism, nature and family. Saar’s art became political in the 1970s namely with the assemblage The Liberation of Aunt Jemima in 1972. As did many of the women who came to consciousness in the 1960s, Saar takes on the feminist mantra “the personal is political” as a fundamental principle in her assemblage works. Her appropriation and transformation of black collectibles, heirlooms and utilitarian objects solidified her status as a pioneer of the Assemblage movement. Saar continues to both actively produce work and inspire countless others.
Saar’s work can be found in the permanent collections of more than 60 museums, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA among others.
Current exhibitions include Atlas | Betye Saar: The Alpha & the Omega, Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy, (long term display); Betye Saar: The Divine Face Museum Ludwig Köln, Germany (June 1 – September 12, 2021) as part of the 2020 Wolfgang Hahn Prize; From the Limitations of Now, Philbrook Museum, Tulsa, OK (March 14, 2021 - September 5, 2021); Making Time Craft Contemporary, Los Angeles, CA (May 9 – September 12, 2021); Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH (June 12, 2021 – September 5, 2021); Speed Museum of Art, Louisville, KY (October 7, 2021 – January 2, 2022); Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN (February 19 – May 15, 2022).
Upcoming exhibitions include Betye Saar: Call and Response, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, TX (September 25, 2021 – January 2, 2022); Betye Saar: Serious Moonlight, Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, FL (October 28, 2021 – April 17, 2022), catalogue. Black American Portraits Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA (November 7, 2021 – April 17, 2022).
Recent exhibitions include Now Is The Time: Recent Acquisitions to the Contemporary Collection Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD (May 2 – July 18, 2021); Betye Saar: Call and Response, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA (September 22, 2019 – April 5, 2020), catalogue, (traveled to the Morgan Library, New York, NY; Mississippi Art Museum, Jackson, MS); Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY (September 7, 2018 – February 3, 2019), catalogue (traveled from Tate Modern, London, England, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, to The Broad, Los Angeles, CA).
Other recent exhibitions of note include Betye Saar: Mojotech, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Scotland (October 20, 2018 – April 28, 2019); Outliers and American Vanguard Art National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, (January 28 – May 13, 2018), catalogue (traveled to the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA); We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965 – 85, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA, (June 26 – September 30, 2018), catalogue (traveled from Brooklyn Museum, NY to Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY). In October 2019, Betye Saar: The Legends of Black Girl’s Window opened at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The exhibition focused on Saar’s rare, early experimental prints from the 1960s and their deep connection to Black Girl’s Window, 1969.
In September 2018, The Getty Research Institute announced the creation of an African American Art History Initiative with the acquisition of Saar’s archives. The Betye Saar Papers range from 1926 to the present covering her entire career and her life as an artist. The archive includes documentation of Saar's prolific artistic production and her notable works in diverse media: sketchbooks of ideas, concepts, and Saar's travels; prints and drawings; book illustrations and commercial graphics, as well as profuse documentation of her assemblages and installations.
A fully illustrated catalogue will be published in conjunction with Betye Saar: Black Doll Blues and is scheduled to be released by Roberts Projects December 2021. The book will be distributed globally by Artbook D.A.P.
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