New-York Historical Society Presents Artwork By Betye Saar in Betye Saar: Keepin’ It Clean

Exhibition Explores The Enduring Legacy Of Slavery And The Representation Of African American Women

The New-York Historical Society presents Betye Saar: Keepin’ It Clean, a solo exhibition of work by the key figure of the Black Arts Movement and feminist art movement of the 1960-70s, on view now through May 27, 2019. The exhibition features 22 works created between 1997 and 2017, from the artist’s ongoing series of washboard assemblages utilizing the washboard as a symbol of the unresolved legacy of slavery and oppression that black Americans, particularly black women, continue to face.

1 Saar_Supreme Quality

Betye Saar (b. 1926), Supreme Quality, 1998. Mixed media on vintage washboard, metal washtub, wood stand. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Tim Lanterman, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Betye Saar: Keepin’ It Clean, which fuses the historical and collective memory of race and gender in the United States with personal autobiography, joins Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow (September 7, 2018 – March 3, 2019) as part of New-York Historical’s new initiative to address topics of freedom, equality, and civil rights in America. Presented in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery, part of the recently inaugurated Center for Women’s History, the exhibition is organized by the Craft &Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles and coordinated at New-York Historical by Wendy N. E. Ikemoto, Ph.D., associate curator of American Art.

2 Saar_Liberation

Betye Saar (b. 1926), Liberation, 2011. Mixed media on vintage washboard Collection of Sheila Silber. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

The washboards of Betye Saar’s Keepin’ It Clean series transcend the traditional boundaries of material culture and art to shed light on persistent gender stereotypes,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “The exhibition furthers the efforts we at the New-York Historical Society have made over the past decade and a half to educate the public on the enduring legacy of slavery and African Americans’ struggle for full rights as citizens. Saar’s art accomplishes what we always try to achieve: to challenge conventional wisdom, provoke new thought and action, and ensure that visitors make important connections between the past and the present and are inspired to action.”

3 Saar_DarkTimes

Betye Saar (b. 1926), Dark Times, 2015. Mixed media on vintage washboard, clock. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Saar first encountered assemblage with her grandmother in the Depression-era neighborhood of Watts in Los Angeles, where she witnessed Simon Rodia creating his iconic “Watts Towers” from found and recycled objects. Further influenced by the assemblages of Joseph Cornell, Saar began in the 1960s to collect and recycle everyday items featuring racist caricatures. Her breakout piece, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972), re-imagined the well-known “mammy” figure with visual references to the art and iconography of Black Power and the Black Panther Party. In this piece and many others, Saar depicts black women in revolt against enslavement, segregation, and servitude. Continue reading