Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe

September 1, 2021 - December 18, 2021
Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College, Armory Center for the Arts
Pomona, Pasadena

The 2020 Curators Award by the Fellows of Contemporary Art was given to the dual-venue exhibition curated by Rebeca McGrew at the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College and Irene Tsatsos at the Armory Center for the Arts.  The two venues had complementary collections of the work by artist Alison Saar under the title: Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe.  The original plan was for the exhibition to open in late 2020 but COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings postponed the official opening to September through December 2021.  The Fellows toured both venues on December 1, 2021.  A scholarly catalog bearing the title of the show was produced through funding by the Fellows and was named one of the 15 best Black art books of 2020 by Culture Type, the essential resource for visual art from a Black perspective.

Photo by Ian Byers-Gamber. Courtesy Armory Center for the Arts.

Quoting from the Forward of the catalog by Leslie Ito of the Armory and Victoria Sancho Lobis of the Benton, “Active since the early 1980s, Alison Saar has developed a distinctive visual idiom that features seemingly earth-bound figures endowed with the spirit of the supernatural.”  Again quoting from the catalog in an essay by Rebecca McGrew: “Alison Saar’s work is deeply rooted in the connections between earth and spirit.  Her predominantly Black female figurative sculptures, endowed with muscular limbs, solid torsos, and a determined assertion of their rightful place – have always been grounded in a sense of site while simultaneously enlightened in matters of soul.”  And, continuing, “The exhibition subtitle, Of Aether and Earthe, suggests transformations of elemental properties, with aether representing the spiritual and non-material, and aerthe – in the archaic spelling – suggesting a rootedness in physical materials.”  In a conversation between Saar and Tsatsos contained in the catalog, Ms Tsatsos remarks: “We [Tsatsos and McGrew] wanted to explore these grounding themes further, which led us to alchemy and the elements of earth, air, fire, water, and aether.  We organized the exhibition around these five elements, focusing on a selection of your [Saar’s] sculptures that were made over the past forty years and depict female forms in states of resistance and transformation.”

Installation view of Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe at the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College, Sep. 1, 2020 to Dec. 18, 2021. This exhibition is co-organized with the Armory Center for the Arts. Photography courtesy of Fredrik Nilsen Studio.

Alison Saar lives and works in Los Angeles.  Born in 1956, she is the daughter of artist Betye Saar and Richard Saar, a ceramist and art restorer.  Saar graduated from Scripts College in 1978 and received her MFA from Otis Art Institute in 1981.  Saar’s work has been exhibited in museums, biennials, galleries, and public art venues and includes key California exhibitions at the Fowler Museum, LA Louver Gallery, Ben Maltz Gallery, and the Pasadena Museum of California Art.  She has had solo institutional exhibitions at many US venues including the Hirshhorn, Whitney, Museum of the African Diaspora, in Brooklyn, the Fields Sculpture Park at Omi International Arts Center in Ghent, New York, the Watts Towers Art Center in Los Angeles, the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa, and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston.  Her work is included in the permanent collections of many institutions including the Whitney, MOMA, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the Huston Museum of Fine Art.

Rebecca McGrew is Senior Curator at the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College.  In addition to the Alison Saar exhibition and two other current exhibitions at the Benton, McGrew has had six other major shows at the Benton over the past several years.  She is the recipient of a Getty Curatorial Research Fellowship and Getty Foundation grants under the Pacific Standard Time arts initiatives.  Irene Tsatsos is an artist, writer and Director of Exhibition Programs/Chief Curator at the Armory Center for the Arts.  She also presented a major exhibit as part of the Getty Foundation grants for Pacific Standard Time arts initiatives.  She was executive director of Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and held curatorial positions at the Whitney, Arts Club of Chicago and Chicago’s alternative space NAME.  The Getty, California Community Foundation, MIT Press, Armory Press and others, have published her essays.

Photo by Ian Byers-Gamber. Courtesy Armory Center for the Arts.

Curated by

Rebecca McGrewSenior Curator, Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College
Irene TsatsosDirector of Exhibition Programs/Senior Curator, Armory Center for the Arts


Alison Saar: of Aether and Earthe

January 1, 2020
Editor Rebecca McGrew
Editor Irene Tsatsos
Artist Alison Saar
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