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Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer opens in Milan

@ Fondazione Prada

Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer opens in Milan @ Fondazione Prada

Junk to be thrown away or memorabilia with great historical value? That's what we question while trying to justify our "serial accumulator" manias. It also is what Don DeLillo questioned in the making of that 800-pages-long tome that goes under the name of Underworld, while admiring the Watts Towers - Los Angeles' "jazz cathedral" built by Simon Rodia using waste materials - and, staring at the same building while she visited it with her grandmother in the '30s, even American artist Betye Saar started to ask herself the same question.

Saar went for the option involving historical memory and she built upon this concept her whole career, made up of assemblages, collages and installations that are now on show in Milan, in the shimmering Fondazione Prada frame.

The exhibition, Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer, includes more than 80 works made by the artist since 1966 and opens the door to her enchanting cabinet of curiosities.

Mindful of the assemblage technique which pioneered by Joseph Cornell, Saar uses it to create a sort of stream of consciousness which delves into women's memory, African-American identity, rituals and mysticism, chronicling personal stories and small gestures, collecting the most common and diverse objects – from a pair of evening gloves through a rosaries, tiny agendas, and fans.

Each work is a real treasure trove that opens the doors of a world in miniature. The rules are those of stratification of meanings, decadent concoction of objects, and association of memories.

So we have open boxes or suitcases which showcase assemblages made of fragments of diaries, old photographs, pendants, dusty hourglasses, broken mirrors and dried petals. Other, more recent, assemblies are instead contained in small cages, an explanatory choice embracing the concept of segregation and survival.

Each work is a microcosm apart, and, at the same time, each is a piece that goes to build Betye Saar's macrocosm, a complex universe made of values ​​of condemnation against sexist and Eurocentric visions and social criticism against racial and gender stereotypes rooted in American culture.

The installation Alpha & Omega (2013-16) deserves then a special mention. To step into this circular room is like loosing yourself into a bubble. The blue walls, the frequent references to stars and planets, the communication between objects and space, everything alludes to a journey of initiation, and the experience of human life. A space that, while exploring the idea of ​​circularity, allows us to float in a magical universe.


Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer runs at Fondazione Prada, Milan, until January 8, 2017.