Alison Saar

Social engagement: politics, resistance, and art

2018 in Review, Part 5: Oregon ArtsWatch visited creators in all media who are addressing problems ranging from racism to climate change

The world is indisputably in a precarious position — not just politically and socially, but economically and even ecologically. It is a moment of crisis. Artists play a crucial role in moments like these, helping the rest of us arrive at a shared cognition of what is — of seeing, sensing, and feeling that roil of life in a way that clarifies, opens eyes, and maybe even showing us a way forward.

What struck me in compiling this year-end reading list on socially engaged art in Oregon is the extent to which artists strove not simply to see and interpret, but to peel back layers, to reveal what is largely hidden — either by design or by accident — by institutions, by geography, and even by the telling of history. There may be no “new” stories to tell, but too many stories haven’t been heard by those who need to hear them, by people who perhaps want to see, but don’t know how.

So dive into this compilation. There’s a bit of everything: visual art, theater, music, conceptual art, literature. And, of course, the usual disclaimer: The choices here are highly subjective and presented in no particular order, and obviously are not intended to be comprehensive.

 


 

Witnesses in a churning world

Artist Hung Liu says “Official Portraits: Immigrant” (2006, lithograph with collage) is one of three self-portraits representing stages of her life.

Sept. 27: ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks checked out a fall show at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem called Witness: Themes of Social Justice in Contemporary Printmaking and Photography. It featured a lineup of artists who look at the world through a lens that is both personal and cultural, and in a way that connects our present moment with history.

“The idea of art as a pristine thing, separated from the hurly-burly of the everyday world and somehow above it all, is a popular notion,” Hicks wrote. “But a much stronger case exists for the idea of art as the expression of the roil of life, in all its messiness and cruelty and prejudices and passions and pleasures and occasional outbursts of joy. Art comes from somewhere, and that somewhere is the world in which we live.”

The article is a mini-tour of the exhibition itself, with nearly 20 pieces accompanied by the artists’ personal statements reflecting the roil and rebellion of their creative processes.

 


 

David Ludwig: Telling the Earth’s story through music

Chamber Music Northwest performs ‘Pangæa.’ Photo: Tom Emerson.

July 27: “Pangæa was the single huge continent on Earth encompassed by one vast ocean over 200 million years ago – eons before dinosaurs, much less humans,” musician David Ludwig writes in the program notes for composition of the same name. “It was an entirely different planet than one we’d recognize today, lush with life of another world.” That’s the world Ludwig interpreted musically in the West Coast premiere of Pangæa, a piece inspired by the ancient Earth, and the threat of extinction as a result of human-caused climate change. Matthew Andrews talked to him about this extraordinary piece of music for ArtsWatch. Best of all: You can listen to it yourself.

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Witnesses in a churning world

The artists speak out in the Hallie Ford Museum's big new exhibition on social justice and art. Here's what they have to say.

The idea of art as a pristine thing, separated from the hurly-burly of the everyday world and somehow above it all, is a popular notion. But a much stronger case exists for the idea of art as the expression of the roil of life, in all its messiness and cruelty and prejudices and passions and pleasures and occasional outbursts of joy. Art comes from somewhere, and that somewhere is the world in which we live.

With that world huddled suspiciously against itself, afraid of its own moving parts, gathered defensively in closed tribes, angry over what large fragments of its inhabitants still believe to be a lost paradise, how can art not reflect the political and cultural realities that surround and help define the artists themselves? Artists are our witnesses, the ones who watch and experience and tell the tale.

Witness: Themes of Social Justice in Contemporary Printmaking and Photography grabs our current cultural condition by the collar and gives it a good bracing shake. An expansive exhibition that is helping the Hallie Ford Museum of Art celebrate its twentieth anniversary in Salem, it features a sterling lineup of artists of color who look at the world through both a personal and a cultural lens, demanding each in their particular way that their stories be heard. All of the works are drawn from the collections of Jordan Schnitzer and his Family Foundation, and they’ve been smartly selected and arranged by guest curator Elizabeth Anne Bilyeu. The show she’s put together, which continues through December 20, is bold and revealing and aesthetically accomplished and reflective of a world that is richer and more complex than we can individually comprehend.

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Alison Saar: Racial history and its implications

Alison Saar's exhibition of prints and sculpture at PNCA deals with layers of racial history and current realities

By LAUREL REED PAVIC

In its simplest form, an exhibition consists of a selection of work pulled from a collection by a curator. The show Crepuscular Blue: Prints and Sculpture by Alison Saar from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation currently at the Center for Contemporary Culture (CCAC) at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) is the result of a far richer process. Instead of a collection and a curator, this show’s generation involved an artist, a daughter, a printer-turned-curator-turned-collaborator, and a fortunate institution.

This exhibition brings together 19 of Saar’s prints from Schnitzer’s extensive collection and four sculptures and one woodcut from the L.A. Louver Gallery in Los Angeles. The curator, Paul Mullowney, is a Master Printer and owner of Mullowney Printing Company in San Francisco. Mullowney met Saar through her daughter, Maddy Leeser, a PNCA alumna and former student of Mullowney’s. Mullowney was already set to curate a show from Schnitzer’s collection when he met Saar and soon shifted his approach so that the show concentrated solely on her work.

Alison Saar, “High Yella Blue”,lithograph/Courtesy of Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation

Saar and Mullowney collaborated on three of the prints in the show during the summer of 2017 at Mullowney’s studio (Muddy Water, Topsy and the Golden Fleece, and Eclipse). Both Mullowney and Saar were at PNCA in mid-September and worked on High Cotton alongside students in PNCA’s MFA program in Print Media. Saar gave a lecture at PNCA on September 19 as part of Schnitzer Visiting Artist Lecture Series. Crepuscular Blue continues at PNCA’s 511 Gallery through October 14.

Saar is a sculptor who is also a printmaker and consummate collaborator. Her work engages with racial stereotypes, American history, Modernist tropes, Greek mythology, and contemporary events with equal tact and finesse. Saar is the daughter of an artist but, in turn, she is the mother of artists. No element or identity is treated as more or less worthy of consideration in her work; all are of value.

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