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Betye Saar’s Long Climb to the Summit

LOS ANGELES — I ask the artist Betye Saar, who is 93 and set to open concurrent solo shows this fall at two major museums — the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art — if she has any theories as to why big-ticket attention is finally coming her way. She skips mentioning the obvious factors: She’s a woman; she’s black; she’s lived her whole life on what she calls “the other side of the planet” (Southern California). “Because it’s about time!” she says. “I’ve had to wait till I’m practically 100.”

We’re standing in her home, which is also her studio, in the Laurel Canyon section of Los Angeles. She has lived and worked here since 1962, when the neighborhood was becoming a New Agey arts enclave. The house, stacked vertically up the side of a ravine, is all stairs and platformlike rooms with a small garden nestled within. The division between domestic and work space feels indeterminate. Order prevails but clear surfaces are hard to find.