First Museum Survey of Betye Saar’s Rarely Seen Installations Opens at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami in October 2021
Serious Moonlight Spans Nearly Twenty Years of Underexplored Aspects of Saar’s Practice
Rarely-seen installation works by pioneering artist Betye Saar (b. 1926) will receive their first dedicated exhibition in more than three decades at ICA Miami next October. Serious Moonlight spans significant installations created from 1980 to 1998, including Oasis (1984), a work that will be reconfigured for the first time in more than 30 years. Showcasing this lesser-known aspect of the artist’s practice, the survey provides new insights into Saar’s explorations of ritual, spirituality, and cosmologies, as well as themes of the African diaspora. Curated by ICA Miami Curator Stephanie Seidel, Serious Moonlight is on view at ICA Miami from October 29, 2021 through April 17, 2022.
“Betye Saar’s impact on art history is undeniable, yet important aspects of her innovative body of work have yet to be fully explored,” said ICA Miami Artistic Director Alex Gartenfeld. “Serious Moonlight gives audiences the first opportunity to view many works of large scale sculpture and installation together that have not been seen in a museum context for decades. ICA Miami is committed to exploring under- recognized aspects of significant artists’ practices in order to enable deeper understanding of their work and its impact.”
“Saar’s radical immersive installations are incredibly rich with narrative,” said ICA Miami Curator Stephanie Seidel. “Connecting the political and the spiritual from a feminist point of view is an enduring aspect of Saar’s practice, and her groundbreaking work continues to spur important dialogues about gender and race. Through these rarely-seen installations, made nearly three decades ago, the exhibition illustrates her bold and pioneering approach as an artist, storyteller, and mythmaker, and the ongoing significance and relevance of her work to the most pressing issues in America today.”
Recognized for her visionary artistic practice, Saar has been a pioneer of assemblage art on the West Coast and Black feminist art in the United States since the 1960s. Her dense, complexly referential assemblages, sculptures, and collages reflect changing cultural and political contexts—generating and influencing dialogues and artistic practice related to race and gender. Rich with familiar symbols, a number of the works in the exhibition highlight Saar’s interest in spirituality and cosmology. Serious Moonlight brings together a series of her lesser-known installations to demonstrate the artist’s critical focus on Black identity and Black feminism throughout her practice, as well as her explorations of myth and spirituality in relation to the African diaspora and the African American experience.
Influenced by Saar’s lifelong home of Los Angeles and research trips to Haiti, Mexico, and Nigeria in the 1970s, the installations seen in the exhibition explore concepts of ritual and community through both cultural symbols and autobiographical references. Reconfigured in close collaboration with the artist, each installation is exhibited in a dedicated architectural pavilion, enabling each work to be showcased individually and supporting the artists’ intentions to create immersive, dynamic viewer experiences with each installation.
Among the significant works on view is Oasis (1984), the exhibition’s earliest installation, which will be reconfigured for the first time since 1988. Featuring meticulously blown glass spheres around a children’s rocking chair embedded in sand, Oasis evokes a utopic space where life and death merge and coexist.
Serious Moonlight additionally features House of Fortune (1988), an ominous scene of a card table, tarot cards, and Vodou flags as a meditation on spirituality. Limbo (1994) and Wings of Morning (1992), both address death and mourning, and draw from the history and experience of African American communities to create tangible and powerful monuments consecrating collective memories. Saar’s reflections on the African diaspora are also illustrated through the installations Mojotech (1987), Secrets and Shadows (1989), A Woman’s Boat: Voyages (1998), and Gliding into Midnight (2019)—the latter with fragments of the 1993 installation In Troubled Waters—which touch upon this history of the aftereffects of the transatlantic slave trade.