The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens are excited to announce the commission of a new large-scale, immersive installation by renowned artist Betye Saar. The installation, which will be housed in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art, will feature a 17-foot-long wooden canoe that incorporates found objects, paint, neon, natural materials, and plant matter harvested by Saar from the Huntington grounds.
Scheduled to open on Nov. 11, 2023, the installation will remain on view for two years, becoming a permanent part of The Huntington’s American art collection. The acquisition builds on significant existing works of African American art in The Huntington’s collection, including paintings and sculpture by Robert Duncanson, Sargent Claude Johnson, Charles White, and Kehinde Wiley. The new commission will be the second work by Saar to join The Huntington’s collection; the first is a scarf collage titled The Fragility of Illusion (1981) that was acquired in 2015.
The project is co-curated by Yinshi Lerman-Tan, Bradford and Christine Mishler Associate Curator of American Art, and Sóla Agustsson, Saar’s granddaughter and the Huntington Art Museum’s special programs and digitization assistant. The installation, which is still in progress, will be accompanied by a short film documenting footage of Saar speaking about the work-in-progress and the selection of natural materials with The Huntington’s botanical curators. An accompanying publication for the project will add a new lens to scholarship about Saar, focusing on her early life and inspiration in Pasadena, including an oral history of Saar’s childhood memories of The Huntington and the surrounding area.
Betye Saar is one of the most significant living American artists, with a six-decade career creating assemblage works exploring themes of racial oppression, mysticism, the occult, family, memory, and identity. Saar was a pioneer of Black feminist art who connected the personal with the political, taking on such subject matter as the legacies of enslavement and the impacts of racism. Born in Los Angeles, Saar moved with her family in the early 1930s to a north Pasadena neighborhood, where she attended Pasadena City College and went on to teach at the now-shuttered Pasadena Film School. Saar's oeuvre since the late 1960s has deployed iconography related to African American history and experience.
Through this immersive installation, visitors will gain a sense of Saar’s major role in 20th-century art history, aesthetics, and culture, as well as her chosen medium of assemblage art. The acquisition of Saar's work builds on The Huntington's existing collection of African American art, furthering its commitment to centering African American art history. The Huntington is thrilled to bring this exciting new installation to its visitors and looks forward to the impact it will have on the greater art community.