Alison Saar

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Alison Saar
'Snake Man', color woodcut and lithograph by --Allison Saar--, 1994, --The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu--.jpg
"Snake Man", color woodcut and lithograph by Alison Saar, 1994, Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House
Born Allison M. Saar
(1956-02-05) February 5, 1956 (age 61)
Los Angeles, California
Nationality American
Education Scripps College, Otis Art Institute
Known for Sculpture, installation art

Alison Saar (born February 5, 1956) is an American sculptor, painter and installation artist[1] whose work explores themes of African cultural diaspora and spirituality.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Saar was born in Los Angeles, California to a well-known African American artist Betye Saar, who was involved in the 1970s Black Arts Movement, and Richard Saar, a former Coast Guard combat artist[3] and art conservationist.[4] Both parents encouraged their children to look at a wide range of art, so as children, Saar and her siblings were given books on art and were taken to area museums. 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 this unique exposure to these experiences and types of art.[6] During high school, Alison began assisting her father in his restoration work. 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. This exposure to other cultures sparked a curiosity in her that inspired her to continue to learn about them.[5]

Saar received a dual degree in art history and studio art from Scripps College (Claremont, CA) in 1978, having studied with Dr. Samella Lewis.[7] Her thesis focused on African-American folk art.[8] She received an MFA[9] from Otis College of Art and Design[4] (Los Angeles, CA) in 1981. Saar and her mother Betye Saar have produced artworks together, in addition to their distinguished separate careers.[10] Saar realizes that the exposure her mother gave her to metaphysical and spiritual art traditions influenced her art style which incorporates cultural and personal influences to "reflect the plurality of her own experiences." [5]


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.[11] She was an artist in residence at Dartmouth College.[12]

Her sculptures and installations explore themes of African cultural diaspora and spirituality.[13] Saar's multiethnic upbringing, multiracial identity and her studies of Latin American, Caribbean and African art and religion have informed her work. Saar’s fascination with vernacular folk art and ability to build an oasis of beauty from cast-off objects are evident in her sculptures and paintings. Her highly personal, often life-sized sculptures are marked by their emotional candor, and by contrasting materials and messages that imbue her work with a high degree of cultural subtext.[14] Her sculptures are powerful representations of issues relating to gender and race as well as heritage and history through her personal experience as well as cultural and artistic influences.[5] Saar's work "Hi, Yella" was included in the 1993 Whitney Biennial, a benchmark in American exhibitions for it's critical tone and content.[15] In a review of the 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."[16]

Saar is skilled in numerous artistic mediums, including metal sculpture, fresco, woodblock print, and assemblage using found objects.[17] Saar is particularly interested in the use of found objects to depict essential human qualities.[18] 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.”[19]


Saar's work has been exhibited in museums, biennials, galleries, and public art venues. Her solo institutional exhibitions include: Alison Saar: Bearing at the Museum of the African Diaspora in 2015-16;[20][21] Winter at The Fields Sculpture Park, Omi International Arts Center in 2014-15;[22] Hothouse at the Watts Towers Art Center in 2014-15;[23] 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.[24][25][26]

Significant group exhibitions include: In Profile: Portraits from the Permanent Collection at The Studio Museum in Harlem in 2015;[27] 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.[28] Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000 a large survey exhibition and catalogue produced Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2000;[29] Twentieth Century American Sculpture in the White House Garden at The White House, Washington, DC in 1995.[30]

She was included in the 1993 Whitney Biennial held at the Whitney Museum of American Art.[31][16]

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


Saar is a recipient of a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, an Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a City of Los Angeles (C.O.L.A.) Artist Fellowship.[32] In 2012 she was named a Fellow of United States Artists.[33]

Timeline of awards:[11]

  • 1984: Artist Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts; Artist in Residence, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
  • 1985: Engelhard Award, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA; Artist in Residence, Roswell Museum of Art, Roswell, N.M; Artist, Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts
  • 1986: Artist in Residence, November, Washington Project for the Arts
  • 1988: Artist Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts
  • 1989: John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship
  • 1999: Distinguished Alumnus of The Year, Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2003: Distinguished Alumna Award, Scripps College, Claremont, CA; Artist in residence, Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
  • 2004: Received the COLA Grant, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2005: Excellence in Design Award by the New York City Art Commission, New York, NY
  • 2013: Joan Mitchell Foundation, New York

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Lewis, Samella (1990). African American Art and Artists. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 284–287. ISBN 0-520-08532-9. Retrieved April 8, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Alison Saar". Otis College of Art and Design. Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  3. ^ "Richard Warner Saar - Artist, Fine Art Prices, Auction Records for Richard Warner Saar". Retrieved 2017-03-16. 
  4. ^ a b Clark, Erin. "Alison Saar." Artworks Winter (2008): 33-40. Print.
  5. ^ a b c d "Alison Saar". National Museum of Women in the Arts. Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  6. ^ "Artists: Alison Saar". Phyllis Kind Gallery. Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  7. ^ Farris, Phoebe (1999-01-01). Women artists of color: a bio-critical sourcebook of 20th century artists in the Americas. Westport, Conn.; London: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313303746. 
  8. ^ Wilson, Judith. "Down to the Crossroads: The Art of Alison Saar." Callaloo 14.1 (1991): 107-23. Web. [1].
  9. ^ OtisCollege (October 14, 2008), Alison Saar, Otis, 1981, retrieved March 5, 2016 
  10. ^ Stromberg, Matt. "Betye and Alison Saar Talk Art at the California African American Museum". HYPERALLERGIC. Hyperallergic Media Inc. Retrieved 11 March 2017. 
  11. ^ a b "Alison Saar Biography – Alison Saar on artnet". Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  12. ^ "In Residence | Hood Museum". Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  13. ^ 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. Delaware: Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts. ISBN 0-9785927-2-7. 
  14. ^ Body Politics, The Female Image in Luba Art and the Sculpture of Alison Saar. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 2001
  15. ^ Sussman, Elisabeth (2005-01-01). "Then and Now: Whitney Biennial 1993". Art Journal. 64 (1): 74–79. doi:10.2307/20068366. 
  16. ^ a b Smith, Roberta (1993-03-05). "AT THE WHITNEY, A BIENNIAL WITH A SOCIAL CONSCIENCE". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-04-15. 
  17. ^ "Alison Saar facts, information, pictures | articles about Alison Saar". Retrieved 2017-03-16. 
  18. ^ "NYFA Interactive - New York Foundation for the Arts". 2006-06-19. Archived from the original on June 19, 2006. Retrieved 2017-03-16. 
  19. ^ "LA Louver Gallery – Home". Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved March 6, 2016. 
  20. ^ "Alison Saar: Bearing – MoAD Museum of African Diaspora". MoAD Museum of African Diaspora. Retrieved February 25, 2016. 
  21. ^ Curiel, Jonathan. "Jemima Unchained: Alison Saar at MoAD". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2017-04-15. 
  22. ^ "OMI International Arts Center | Alison Saar". Retrieved 2017-04-15. 
  23. ^ Goldman, Edward (2014-11-19). "Art that Stares, Spits and Screams at You". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-04-15. 
  24. ^ "Alison Saar - Reviews - Art in America". Retrieved 2017-04-15. 
  25. ^ "Figge Art Museum – Alison Saar: STILL...". Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  26. ^ "Heavy Ideas with Elements of Play: "Alison Saar: STILL ... ," at the Figge Art Museum February 9 through April 14 | River Cities' Reader". Retrieved 2017-04-15. 
  27. ^ "In Profile | The Studio Museum in Harlem". Retrieved 2017-04-15. 
  28. ^ "The David C. Driskell Center". Retrieved 2017-04-15. 
  29. ^ Sheri., Berstein,; Susan., Fort, Ilene (2001-01-01). Made in California : art, image, and identity, 1900-2000. Los Angeles County of Art. ISBN 0520227654. OCLC 807296602. 
  30. ^ C., Monkman, Betty (2000-01-01). 20th-century American sculpture in the White House garden. H.N. Abrams. ISBN 0810942216. OCLC 606473684. 
  31. ^ K., Bhabha, Homi; Elisabeth, Sussmann,; York), Biennial Exhibition (1993.03.04-06.20 New (1993-01-01). Whitney Biennial : 1993 biennial exhibition // Whitney Museum of American Art. Abrams. ISBN 0810925451. OCLC 246148548. 
  32. ^ artist bio (pdf)
  33. ^ "United States Artists". United States Artists. Retrieved March 6, 2016.