Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Alison Saar

Blood Sweat and Tears, 2005 wood, copper, bronze, paint and tar  

Lunarseas: Sea of Serenity, 2007 copper, tin and wood

 York:Terra Incognita, 2010 cast bronze

This is the work of Alison Saar in the exhibition Bound for Glory at Lewis and Clark College in Portland. The main commission was to create a statue of York, the African American slave that accompanied William Clark on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Saar's sculpture is a permanent installation on the campus. Here is the main work and the back. Little is known about York. So the artist had to piece together ideas, but we know that a dry stream was named for him. His back as a map of scars with the dry stream marked is full of poignency. York is set in the midst of a group of granite rocks, each with a bronze tablet that inscribes the few words in the Expedition journals that refer to him.

York faithfully served Captain Clark, but he was not rewarded with his freedom. Clark was arrogant and selfish. In the statue York is holding a rifle, which he used to catch game during the expedition, but when they got home it was taken away from him.
This tragic story of inequality and abuse of priviledge is given dignity by Saar's sculpture.

The work in the exhibition was extraordinay. An excellent catalog with an essay by Linda Tesner (doesn't seem to be available to buy, they gave it out free at the gallery and would probably send you one if you asked) provides helpful insights into the art works, but these works are so strong and poignent that we cannot help but be overwhelmed by Saar's work. I think she is acheiving a whole new level of intensity in these sculptures.

There was one odd comment made by Tesner with reference to Travelin'Light, a bronze life size man in a suit hanging upside down. To me he was obviously being lynched, but Tesner said, he was "a little down on his luck." I read this three times to see if I had missed something!
But the rest of the book was very insightful. Lunarseas, Sea of Serenity (above) is  "speaks to introspection about how things come to mind in a quiet way, but also suggest thjat within the removed quietude of serenity one might verge on insanity ..." Blood/Sweat/Tears at the top of the blog is self explanatory. There were many other really strong works as well.

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