Mississippi Museum of Art brings Betye Saar exhibition to Jackson

What is a Betye Saar exhibition doing in Mississippi?

Inviting new audiences into the Mississippi Museum of Art.

The Los-Angeles based Saar, one of the most significant artists working in assemblage and collage today, is best known for incisive works confronting and reclaiming racist imagery, prominently, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima. The Mississippi Museum of Art welcomes long ignored minority audiences into its galleries by reflecting experiences in Saar’s work not traditionally on display.

“Betye Saar: Call and Response”

“The opportunity with a Betye Saar exhibition is the first act of presenting, which is allowing folks to see themselves reflected in artworks and have some type of sharing around historical art that might speak to folks of color in a way that peaks curiosity, makes connections for their own personal histories, while also empowering those to dig in a little deeper about what the artist is trying to speak on,” MMA’s Chief Curator and Artistic Director of the Museum’s Center for Art and Public Exchange Ryan N. Dennis told me.

Jackson’s population is 80%-plus African American.

“Betye Saar: Call and Response” originated at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and traveled to the Morgan Library and Museum in New York before coming to Jackson. I previously reviewed the Morgan Library’s presentation of the show. It will be on view at MMA through July 11, 2021.

Betye Saar sketchbook, sketch for Eyes of the Beholder, November 6, 1994. Watercolor and ballpoint pen on paper. Collection of Betye Saar, courtesy the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles. © Betye Saar. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA
Betye Saar, sketch for Eyes of the Beholder, November 6, 1994. Watercolor and ballpoint pen on paper. Collection of Betye Saar, courtesy the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles. © Betye Saar. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

This is the first exhibition examining the relationship between Saar’s found objects, sketches and finished works, thereby shedding new light on her distinctive practice which addresses spirituality, gender, family history and race. The exhibition features a selection of sketches and approximately 18 corresponding assemblages and collages alongside approximately a dozen of her travel sketchbooks. Selections cover a broad span of her career, from the 1970s through a sculptural installation made specifically for this touring exhibition

These sketches form an essential part of what she considers the mysterious transformation of object into art and provide a window into her creative process. As such, the exhibition’s appeal extends beyond its social commentary.

“This is Betye’s exhibition as an artist who is showing her sketchbook, and there’s something about the kind of process and action that’s taking place within this exhibition that I hope people can just connect to being an artist,” Dennis said. “You can enter into this show with the heavy handedness of race, gender and all the things, but you can also enter into this exhibition and just enjoy sketchbooks, seeing how sketchbooks turn to objects and vice versa.”

Zanele Muholi exhibition Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens
Zanele Muholi exhibition Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens

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