Betye Saar’s Assemblage
The power of story told through Objects and Artifacts
Betye Saar has been creating art since graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1949. Now ninety-six years old, her body of work has been exhibited at so many museums and galleries and has received so many awards that it takes roughly seventeen pages to list it all on her CV. The New Yorker magazine has called her “one of the most significant philosopher-artists of the past century.”
Saar began her career in design and printmaking before developing her now signature style of visual storytelling through assemblage of found objects into sculpture and tableau. “I am intrigued with combining the remnant of memories, fragments of relics and ordinary objects, with the components of technology,” Saar says. “It’s a way of delving into the past and reaching into the future simultaneously. The art itself becomes the bridge.”
The photo of her at the top of the page, taken by photographer Michele Mattei, feels like a still-life assemblage of Saar herself. Posing behind the silver branch in her silver necklace, with her silver hair, she evokes both the wisdom of her years and the incisive social and cultural commentary of the pieces she has created throughout her career.
Since so much has been written about her, I will point you to profiles of her by The Hammer Museum at UCLA, Apollo Magazine, and The Museum of Modern Art, as well as to her own website to read more about her life and work if you are not familiar with her already.
In this space, I simply want to offer an acquaintance with her in her own words. The first video, a two-minute studio tour, takes us into her space where she talks about how she finds objects and how the stories inside those objects reveal themselves to her.
In the second video, she describes making her sculptural tableau “I’ll Bend But I Will Not Break,” a moving piece that connects slave ships and the slave trade to an old wooden ironing board.
I make my art in silence. The materials conjure ideas. The ideas conjure images. The images conjure art. The art conjures feelings. The feelings are the goal.