Betye Saar is a legend of the Los Angeles art community. Defying racist and sexist social norms of the 20th century, she studied design and fine art in southern California universities and grew into a bold visual artist challenging negative ideas about African-Americans throughout her distinguished career — a career which is still expanding at warp speed even as she enters her 90s. 

LACMA presents Call and Response, a large exhibition of Saar’s sketchbooks dating back to the 1960s and finished works from as early as 1971. Saar became enamored with printmaking and using found objects in her work, and she played a critical role in the development of assemblage art. Often her work starts with a found object in her possession, which she then combines with other objects and ideas, coming to finally sketch the work out when her vision emerges. 

Betye Saar, Sketchbook, 2013, 5 5/8 x 3 in. Collection of Betye Saar, courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles (Museum Associates/LACMA)

Over the decades of her art practice, her sketchbooks reflect a calculated approach to art making that remains tied to the mystery of transformation in using found objects, and in her thoughtful process of creating work with incredible social meaning.

Betye Saar, The Weight of Buddha (Contemplating Mother Wit and Street Smarts), 2014, Mixed media assemblage, 19.5 x 7 x 7 in, Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California (Photo Robert Wedemeyer)

Rising up during the Black Art movement of the 1970s, themes of Saar’s work confront not just stereotypes of gender and race but the very real and conflicted lifestyle and spiritual relations of the times. This exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see her sketches and some of the finished artworks in the same rooms, giving space for meditation and appreciation of her art. 

Resnick Pavilion at LACMA, Sept. 22-April 5; lacma.org.

Betye Saar, Sketchbook, 1998, 5 5/8 x 3 in. Collection of Betye Saar, courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles (Museum Associates/LACMA)

Betye Saar, I’ll Bend But I Will Not Break, 1998, Mixed media tableau: vintage ironing board, flat iron, metal chin, white bed sheet, six wooden clothespins, cotton, clothesline and one rope hook, 80 x 96 x 36 in, LACMA, Gift of Lynda and Stewart Resnick through the 2018 Collectors Committee.