Alison Saar

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Alison Saar
Alison M. Saar

(1956-02-05) February 5, 1956 (age 66)
EducationScripps College, Otis Art Institute
Known forSculpture, installation art
AwardsGuggenheim Fellowship

Alison Saar (born February 5, 1956) is a Los Angeles, California based sculptor, mixed-media, and installation artist. Her artwork focuses on the African diaspora and black female identity and is influenced by African, Caribbean, and Latin American folk art and spirituality.[1] Saar is well known for "transforming found objects to reflect themes of cultural and social identity, history, and religion."[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Saar was born in Los Angeles, California, to a well-known African-American sculptor and installation artist, Betye Saar, and Richard Saar, a ceramicist and art conservator.[3] Saar's mother Betye was involved in the 1970s Black Arts Movement and frequently took Alison and her sisters, Lezley and Tracye, to museums and art openings during their childhood.[4] They also saw Outsider Art, such as Simon Rodia's Watts Towers in Los Angeles and Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village in Simi Valley.[5] Saar's love of nature, intense interest in vernacular folk art and admiration of artists' ability to create beauty through the use of discarded items stemmed from her upbringing and exposure to these experiences and types of art.[6] Alison worked with her father as a conservator for eight years, starting while she was still in high school.[7] This is where she learned to carve, and she notes that it later influenced the materials she would use in her pieces.[7] Dealing with artifacts from different cultures‍—‌Chinese frescoes, Egyptian mummies, and Pre-Columbian and African art‍—‌taught Alison about properties of various materials, techniques, and aesthetics.[7]

Saar received a dual degree in art history and studio art from Scripps College (Claremont, CA) in 1978, having studied with Dr. Samella Lewis.[8] Her thesis focused on African-American folk art.[9] She received an MFA from Otis College of Art and Design (Los Angeles, CA) in 1981.[10] In addition to their distinguished separate careers Saar and her mother Betye Saar have produced artworks together.[11] From her mother Alison "inherited a fascination with mysticism, found objects, and the spiritual potential of art."[5]


Snake Man, color woodcut and lithograph by Saar, 1994, Honolulu Museum of Art

Saar is skilled in numerous artistic mediums, including metal sculpture, wood, fresco, woodblock print, and works using found objects.[12][13][9] Her sculptures and installations explore themes of African cultural diaspora and spirituality.[12] Her work is often autobiographical and often acknowledges the historical role of the body as a marker of identity, and the body's connection to contemporary identity politics.[1] Snake Man, in the collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art, is an example of how the artist references both African culture and the human body in her work. The artist's multiethnic upbringing, multiracial identity and her studies of Latin American, Caribbean and African art and religion have informed her work.[5][9] Her highly personal, often life-sized sculptures are marked by their emotional candor, and by contrasting materials and messages she imbues her work with a high degree of cultural subtext.[13] Her sculptures represent issues relating to gender and race through both her personal experience and historical context.[14] Saar investigates practices of Candomblé, Santería, and Hoodoo.[15] Believing that objects contain spirits, she transforms familiar found objects to stir human emotions.[16][7]

"Swing Low" by Saar, 2008, Harlem

In a review of the Whitney Biennial, New York Times art critic Roberta Smith said that Saar's work was among the "few instances where the political and visual join forces with real effectiveness."[17] Of Saar's 2006 exhibition Coup, critic Rebecca Epstein wrote, “[Saar] demonstrates deft skill with seemingly unforgiving materials (bronze, lead, tar, wood). [She] juggles themes of personal and cultural identity as she fashions various sizes of female bodies (often her own) that are buoyant with story while solid in stance.”[18]


Saar's work has been exhibited in museums, biennials, galleries, and public art venues. Saar's work has been exhibited internationally with key exhibitions at the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, L.A. Louver Gallery, Phyllis Kind Gallery in New York City, Ben Maltz Gallery, and Pasadena Museum of California Art.[19] She was an artist-in-residence at Dartmouth College and at The Studio Museum in Harlem.[20][5] Her solo institutional exhibitions include: Alison Saar: Bearing at the Museum of the African Diaspora in 2015-16;[21][22] Winter at The Fields Sculpture Park, Omi International Arts Center in 2014-15;[23] Hothouse at the Watts Towers Art Center in 2014-15;[24] and STILL... that opened at the Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design in 2012 and traveled to the Figge Art Museum, Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2013.[25][26][27]

Significant group exhibitions include: In Profile: Portraits from the Permanent Collection at The Studio Museum in Harlem in 2015;[28] African American Art since 1950: Perspectives from the David C. Driskell Center, a traveling exhibition and catalogue that was presented at the University of Maryland in 2012, Taft Museum of Art in 2013, Harvey B. Gantt Center in 2014, Figge Art Museum in 2014-15, Polk Museum of Art in 2015, and Sheldon Museum of Art in 2016.[29] Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000 a large survey exhibition and catalogue produced Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2000;[30] Twentieth Century American Sculpture in the White House Garden at The White House, Washington, D.C., in 1995;[31] and "Building on the Legacy: African American Art from the Permanent Collection" at the Muscarelle Museum of Art in Williamsburg, Virginia in 2018. In 2021, Saar curated SeenUNseen at L.A. Louver which coincided with a reading by Myriam J. A. Chancy.[32]

Saar's work Hi, Yella was included in the 1993 Whitney Biennial held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, a benchmark in American exhibitions for its critical tone and content.[33][17][34][35]

In 2021, the Benton Museum of Art and Armory Center for the Arts surveyed her work in a joint exhibition titled "Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe".[36]

Saar is represented by L.A. Louver in Venice, California.


[19][better source needed]



  • Shepherd, Elizabeth. Secrets, Dialogues, Revelations: The Art of Betye and Alison Saar. Los Angeles, CA: Wight Art Gallery, University of California, 1990.
  • Wilson, Judith. "Down to the Crossroads: The Art of Alison Saar." In Callaloo 14 no 1 (Winter 1991): 107–123.
  • Krane, Susan. Art at the Edge, Alison Saar: Fertile Ground, Atlanta, GA: High Museum of Art, 1993.
  • Nooter Roberts, Mary, and Alison Saar. Body Politics:The Female Image in Luba Art and the Sculpture of Alison Saar. UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 2000.
  • McGee, Julie L. "Field, Boll, and Monument: Toward an Iconography of Cotton in African American Art." In International Review of African American Art 19 no. 1 (2003): 37–48.
  • Lewis, Samella S. African American Art and Artists, revised and expanded 3rd ed., Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
  • Farrington, Lisa E. "Reinventing Herself: The Black Female Nude." In Woman's Art Journal 24 no. 2 (Autumn 2003–Winter 2004): 15–23.
  • Dallow, Jessica. "Reclaiming Histories: Betye and Alison Saar, Feminism, and the Representation of Black Womanhood." Feminist Studies 30 no. 1 (2004): 75–113.
  • Dallow, Jessica. Family Legacies: The Art of Betye, Lezley, and Alison Saar. Chapel Hill: Ackland Art Museum, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in association with University of Washington Press, 2005.
  • Jones, Leisha. "Women and Abjection: Margins of Difference, Bodies of Art." Visual Culture & Gender 2 (2007): 62–71.
  • Linton, Meg. Alison Saar: STILL .... Los Angeles, CA: Otis College of Art and Design, Ben Maltz Gallery, 2012.
  • Dallow, Jessica. "Departures and Returns: Figuring the Mother's Body in the Art of Betye and Alison Saar." Reconciling Art and Mothering, edited by Rachel Epp Buller. Ashgate Publishing Company, 2012.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Dallow, Jessica (2004). "Reclaiming Histories: Betye and Alison Saar, Feminism, and the Representation of Black Womanhood". Feminist Studies. 30 (1): 74–113. JSTOR 3178559.
  2. ^ Saar, Alison. "National Museum of Women in the Arts". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  3. ^ Clark, Erin. "Alison Saar." Artworks Winter (2008): 33-40. Print.
  4. ^ Dallow, Jessica (2005). Family legacies : the art of Betye, Lezley, and Alison Saar. Saar, Betye., Saar, Lezley, 1953-, Saar, Alison., Matilsky, Barbara C., Saar-Cavanaugh, Tracye., Ackland Art Museum. (1st ed.). Chapel Hill: Ackland Art Museum, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in association with University of Washington Press, Seattle and London. ISBN 029598564X. OCLC 60664401.
  5. ^ a b c d Krane, Susan (1993). Art at the Edge, Alison Saar: Fertile Ground. Atlanta, GA: High Museum of Art.
  6. ^ "Artists: Alison Saar". Phyllis Kind Gallery. Retrieved March 14, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d Shepherd, Elizabeth (1990). The Art of Betye and Alison Saar. Secrets, Dialogues, Revelations. Los Angeles, CA: Wight Art Gallery, University of California. p. 37. ISBN 0-943739-14-4.
  8. ^ Farris, Phoebe (January 1, 1999). Women artists of color: a bio-critical sourcebook of 20th century artists in the Americas. Westport, CT; London: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313303746.
  9. ^ a b c Wilson, Judith. "Down to the Crossroads: The Art of Alison Saar." Callaloo 14.1 (1991): 107-23. Web. [1].
  10. ^ Linton, Megan (2012). Alison Saar: STILL ... Los Angeles, CA: Otis College of Art and Design, Ben Maltz Gallery. ISBN 9780930209339. OCLC 849747893.
  11. ^ Stromberg, Matt (February 13, 2017). "Betye and Alison Saar Talk Art at the California African American Museum". HYPERALLERGIC. Hyperallergic Media Inc. Retrieved March 11, 2017.
  12. ^ a b Saar, Alison; Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts; Towson University (January 1, 2007). Duped: prints by Alison Saar : Towson University, March 16, 2007-April 14, 2007 : Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, April 20, 2007-August 5, 2007. DE: Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts. ISBN 978-0-9785927-2-1. OCLC 166424124.
  13. ^ a b Nooter Roberts, Mary (2000). Body politics : the female image in Luba art and the sculpture of Alison Saar. Saar, Alison., University of California, Los Angeles. Fowler Museum of Cultural History. Los Angeles, Calif.: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. ISBN 0930741811. OCLC 44518067.
  14. ^ Farrington, Lisa E. (2003). "Reinventing Herself: The Black Female Nude". Woman's Art Journal. 24 (2): 15–23. doi:10.2307/1358782. JSTOR 1358782.
  15. ^ Amadour, Ricky (February 5, 2022). "An Interview with Alison Saar". Riot Material. Retrieved March 20, 2022.
  16. ^ Saar, Alison (1993). Myth, magic and ritual : figurative work by Alison Saar : [exhibition] February 2-March 7, 1993, Freedman Gallery, Albright College, Center for the Arts. Reading, PA: Freedman Gallery, Albright College.
  17. ^ a b Smith, Roberta (March 5, 1993). "At the Whitney, a Biennial with a social conscience". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  18. ^ "LA Louver Gallery – Home". Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved March 6, 2016.
  19. ^ a b "Alison Saar Biography – Alison Saar on artnet". Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  20. ^ "In Residence | Hood Museum". Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  21. ^ "Alison Saar: Bearing – MoAD Museum of African Diaspora". MoAD Museum of African Diaspora. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  22. ^ Curiel, Jonathan. "Jemima Unchained: Alison Saar at MoAD". SF Weekly. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  23. ^ "OMI International Arts Center | Alison Saar". Archived from the original on December 19, 2016. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  24. ^ Goldman, Edward (November 19, 2014). "Art that Stares, Spits and Screams at You". Huffington Post. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  25. ^ "Alison Saar - Reviews - Art in America". Archived from the original on March 9, 2017. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  26. ^ "Figge Art Museum – Alison Saar: STILL..." Archived from the original on September 20, 2015. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  27. ^ "Heavy Ideas with Elements of Play: "Alison Saar: STILL ... ," at the Figge Art Museum February 9 through April 14 | River Cities' Reader". February 2013. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  28. ^ "In Profile | The Studio Museum in Harlem". Archived from the original on April 16, 2017. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  29. ^ "The David C. Driskell Center". Archived from the original on January 20, 2018. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  30. ^ Sheri., Berstein; Susan., Fort, Ilene (January 1, 2001). Made in California : art, image, and identity, 1900-2000. Los Angeles County of Art. ISBN 0520227654. OCLC 807296602.
  31. ^ C., Monkman, Betty (January 1, 2000). 20th-century American sculpture in the White House garden. H.N. Abrams. ISBN 0810942216. OCLC 606473684.
  32. ^ "Artist Alison Saar on why she gives power to the Black female body". Los Angeles Times. September 27, 2021. Retrieved March 20, 2022.
  33. ^ K., Bhabha, Homi; Elisabeth, Sussmann; York), Biennial Exhibition (1993.03.04-06.20 New (January 1, 1993). Whitney Biennial : 1993 biennial exhibition // Whitney Museum of American Art. Abrams. ISBN 0810925451. OCLC 246148548.
  34. ^ Sussman, Elisabeth (January 1, 2005). "Then and Now: Whitney Biennial 1993". Art Journal. 64 (1): 74–79. doi:10.2307/20068366. JSTOR 20068366.
  35. ^ Hi, Yella, by Alison Saar, photographed at Arizona State University Art Museum
  36. ^ Knight, Christopher (July 27, 2021). "Review: Alison Saar's poetic chronicles of Black womanhood". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 29, 2021.
  37. ^ a b "Alison Saar | Biography" (PDF). L.A. Louver. Retrieved October 25, 2020.
  38. ^ a b c "Alison Saar | Selected works by exhibition". L.A. Louver. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  39. ^ "United States Artists". Retrieved March 6, 2016.
  40. ^ "Alison Saar | MoMA". The Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved June 18, 2021.

External links[edit]