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U-M Museum of Art Presents Major Exhibition of Groundbreaking American Artist Betye Saar
October 15, 2005–January 8, 2006

This fall, the University of Michigan Museum of Art will present Betye Saar: Extending the Frozen Moment, a major exhibition that surveys the artistic accomplishments of one of the most distinguished figures in American art today. This monographic exhibition is the first to focus on the sustained presence of photography—“the frozen moment”—as a defining element that unifies Saar’s career. Saar is best known for her richly evocative assemblages, which incorporate found objects and photographic fragments that reflect her interest in nostalgia, memory, and history and serve as a vital metaphor for the African American experience. Including more than 60 works dating from 1967 to 2004 drawn from public and private collections nationwide, the exhibition offers fresh perspectives on contemporary art, feminism, and American culture and politics. Organized by UMMA, it will be accompanied by a major book copublished by UMMA and the University of California Press, featuring new scholarship and critical writing on Saar's art. After its premiere in Ann Arbor from October 15, 2005 through January 8, 2006, the exhibition will tour nationally.

Betye Saar
Mixed-media assemblage
16 1/2 x 9 3/4 x 3/4 in.
Mary Anne Mott and Herman Warsh, Santa Barbara, CA
Photograph by Joshua Nefsky; courtesy of the artist and Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY

“As one of the leading artists of our time, Betye Saar is central to understanding American art of the last 40 years. Her use of photography—one of the most profoundly immediate and powerful media of the last century—has allowed Saar to merge the historical, the personal, and the universal to make an art that is transcendent and somehow remarkably generous,” said UMMA Director James Steward. “As an institution known for its commitment to contemporary art and for its distinguished photography collection, UMMA is enormously pleased to bring the originality of Saar’s achievement to wider audiences through this exhibition tour and publication.”

Born in 1926 in Los Angeles, Betye Saar emerged in the 1960s as a powerful figure in the redefinition of African American identity in art and in the making of a socially engaged art. Throughout her career, Saar has injected African American visual histories into mainstream visual culture by blending cultural, political, and spiritual iconography to create complex works with universal impact. Saar’s innovative and politically trenchant artwork moves beyond protest to encapsulate what links human beings across cultures and time. She expresses her interest in the past and in memory by including vintage portraits and personal effects in order to challenge stereotypes and reconstruct and reclaim the identities of those lost to history.

Highlights from the exhibition include Sambo’s Banjo (1971–72), in which the artist transforms a traditional minstrel instrument’s case into a repository of derogatory stereotypes and a commentary on lynching; Bittersweet (Bessie’s Song) (1973), a touching homage to jazz legend

Bessie Smith that incorporates photographs, promotional handbills, and decorative elements; The Loss (1977), a profoundly personal work that includes a torn image of her father and herself sewn onto one of her great aunt’s handkerchiefs; Midnight Madonnas (1996), an evocative piece that merges symbols of the mystical with Christianity and African American legacy; and Colored (2002), in which the artist creates a visual metaphor for skin color distinctions by juxtaposing a color spectrum and photographs of African Americans.

This exhibition is made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts, The Henry Luce Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the Peter Norton Family Foundation. Additional support has come from the University of Michigan’s Office of the Provost, Office of the Vice President for Research, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and Center for the Education of Women, Frances and Sydney Lewis Visiting Leaders Fund, as well as from Pfizer Global Research and Development, Michigan Radio, Michigan Television, the Monroe-Brown Foundation and the Friends of the Museum of Art.


Betye Saar: Extending the Frozen Moment will travel to the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach, Florida (March 18–June 11, 2006), the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia (July 15–December 10, 2006), and the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California (January 27–April 29, 2007).


The exhibition is accompanied by a 176-page publication with 80 color and 10 black-and-white illustrations copublished by UMMA and the University of California Press. Essayists include UMMA Director James Steward; Kellie Jones, Assistant Professor of the History of Art and African American Studies at Yale University; Lowery Stokes Sims, President of the Studio Museum in Harlem; Richard Cándida Smith, Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley; and Deborah Willis, Professor of Photography and Imaging at New York University.


The University of Michigan Museum of Art is considered one of the finest university art museums in the country, with more than 17,000 works of art and an ambitious schedule of special exhibitions and programs. UMMA’s extraordinary Western, Asian, and African holdings include masterworks by such artists as Dürer, Monet, Picasso, and today’s avant-garde.

UMMA is located at the gateway to the University of Michigan’s historic central campus at the corner of South State Street and South University in Ann Arbor. Open Tuesday to Saturday 10 am–5 pm; Thursday 10 am–9 pm; Sunday noon–5 pm. Closed Monday and major holidays. Admission is free; a $5 donation is suggested.

For more information: 734.763.UMMA;