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Benton Museum of Arts and The Armory Center for the Arts
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Alison Saar at the Benton Museum of Art and The Armory Center for the Arts


It’s the last week to catch Alison Saar’s split-venue exhibition, Of Aether and Earthe, at the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College and the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena. The exhibition is a retrospective of Saar’s figurative sculptures, drawings, and installations.

The Benton show focuses on works dealing with the elements of earth and water, while the Armory exhibit focuses on air, fire, and aether, a mystical essence that moves between the four elements. In Pomona, the sculptures feel rooted and in some cases weighed down, as in Breach (2016), a figurative sculpture in which a women balances luggage, wash bins, and various objects on her head. At The Armory, however, the pieces take flight. The ethereal Pearly (2013), a bronze figure who gazes upward, is suspended from the ceiling via delicate gauze emanating from the figure’s mouth, eliciting both the exercising of one’s voice and the stifling of it.  

Saar’s work often deals in these dualities, celebrating autonomy and hope as much as it confronts racialized violence and trauma. At Benton, a disembodied head rests on a pedestal (Conked, 1997), its hair made of a thick, jutting wire that flows into the figure’s open mouth before sprouting out from its neck. The title references conk, a gel that was used to straighten African American hair that contains lye, alluding to how the societal pressures to anglicize one’s hair also becomes dangerous and corrosive, and in this case, literally choking the subject. But a throughline in Saar’s sculptural works is the strength and stability of her figures, emanating power even as they confront violent truths.

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On view: September 1 – December 18, 2021 (Benton)
July 16 – December 12, 2021 (Armory)

Photo: Installation photos from Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe at Armory Center for the Arts (2021). Image courtesy of Armory Center for the Arts. Photo by Ian Byers-Gamber.