New York

Alison Saar

Monique Knowlton Gallery

In her first solo outing in New York, the young West Coast artist Alison Saar gets to the heart of the issue of the artwork as magical object. Working with a variety of simple materials, including bits and pieces of tin, wood, sticks, wire, twine, linoleum, and pottery, she assembles freestanding, pedestal, and relief sculptures which sharply express archetypal emotions and fears about love, beauty, sex, and death. Art history and black American culture seem the major sources, but the originality of the treatments transcends influences.

In Whodo That Voodoo, 1984, Saar represents the mysterious powers associated with the ritualistic activity of her title by the strong face of a black woman. Presented in a framelike format, this small object, hammered together from wood, tin, wire, linoleum, and paint, brings to mind the Christian votive tradition of holy pictures. The rough-hewn qualities of Queen of Sheba, 1984, underscore the primitive vitality of this small object. The “Queen of Sheba” is presented as a young black woman with closely cropped hair; she wears sunglasses and a string of pearlike stones, which serve as a bikini bottom. While the woman’s look and her pose of right hand on hip are contemporary enough, the way her legs are turned recalls certain pictorial conventions of ancient art. particularly that of Egypt. This blending of past and present in a single image bathes the object in a symbolic aura. Even the background, in pinkish red linoleum adorned with pottery shards, takes on preciousness in this metaphoric context.

In several works, Saar explores the ambivalent states of mind that often accompany love relationships. In Stoic Valentine, 1984, a doll representing a woman lifting her skirts up sports a sad, stonelike expression at strange odds with her open gesture. Jezebel (Bound), 1983, a 7-foot-high figure made of sticks, rags, and painted plaster, suggests an emblem of female wickedness; in The Adoration, 1984, the same materials are used to create a mood of violence and violation. In this work two standing sculptures of dogs face the wall and a large, doll-like relief of a young girl. The only things missing are her screams—which the viewer has no trouble supplying, so strong is Saar’s imaginative flair and her admirable dramatic bent.

Ronny Cohen