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Updated 3:00 PM October 12, 2005




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  U-M Museum of Art
'Frozen moment' highlights Saar exhibition

Linking the past and the personal has been the life work of renowned American artist Betye Saar.
'Midnight Madonnas,' a 1996 assemblage by Betye Saar, who is the subject of a UMMA exhibit opening Oct. 15. (Photo by Joshua Nefsky)

To celebrate her work the U-M Museum of Art (UMMA) has created an exhibit of more than 60 works that incorporate Saar's photographs into larger assemblages—or collections of objects—that she feels serve as metaphors of the African-American experience, as well as other important social and cultural issues.

"Betye Saar: Extending the Frozen Moment" will open Oct. 15 in the West Gallery of UMMA and run through Jan. 8.

In addition, UMMA and the University of California Press have co-published a 176-page book with 80 color and 10 black-and-white illustrations that feature Saar's work. It contains a collection of essays on her contributions to American art, including a piece by UMMA Director James Steward.

A special education room also will be part of the exhibition.

In the 1960s Saar became a powerful figure in the redefinition of African-American identity and in the making of socially engaged art, exhibit organizers say. Her assemblages incorporate found objects and photographic fragments that reflect her interest in nostalgia, memory and history.

"This is the first exhibition to focus on her sustained interest in the incorporation of the photographic image—the frozen moment, as the title of the show suggests," says James Wyman, UMMA chief curator. "Her work embraces many issues that are very close to her—family, civil rights, race relations, issues of cultural stereotypes, socio-political commentary. She has found her most articulate voice in the art of assemblage."

Highlights of the exhibit include "Sambo's Banjo" (1971-72), in which Saar uses a traditional minstrel instrument case to show derogatory stereotypes and a commentary on lynching; "Bittersweet (Bessie's Song)" (1973), a homage to jazz legend Bessie Smith that incorporates photographs, promotional handbills and decorative elements; and "The Loss" (1977), a personal work that includes a torn image of Saar and her father sewn into one of her great aunt's handkerchiefs.

"Assemblage is a very difficult medium," Wyman says. "Betye is one of the few artists that have worked with assemblage so consistently and so successfully. I think of her as one of the greatest artists of our time."

During the weekend of the exhibit's opening, Saar will deliver a lecture at 3 p.m. Oct. 16 in Auditorium A of Angell Hall. After debuting in Ann Arbor this year, the exhibit will travel nationally.

"As one of the leading artists of our time, Betye Saar is central to understanding American art of the last 40 years," Steward says. "Her use of photography—one of the most profoundly immediate and powerful media of the last century—has allowed Saar to merge the historical, the personal, and the universal to make an art that is transcendent and somehow remarkably generous."

The exhibit is sponsored, in part, by the Office of the Provost, Office of the Vice President for Research, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and Center for the Education of Women. Additional sponsors include the National Endowment for the Arts, Michigan Radio, Michigan Television and Friends of the Museum of Art.

Museum hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday;
10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday.

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