A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Artist Alison Saar’s UK Art Museum exhibition on Great Flood of 1927 still relevant today

By Dorothy Freeman and Whitney Hale
Special to KyForward

As the staff of the University of Kentucky Art Museum unpacked Alison Saar’s “Breach,” an exhibition that investigates the 1927 Great Mississippi River Flood, they could not help but be aware of how relevant the work is to the tragic situation in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Alison Saar is a sculptor, installation artist, painter and printmaker equally adept at carving wood, assembling found objects or creating canvases out of materials with their own histories: sugar sacks, mattress ticking and old linens.

Her interest in the historic flood was triggered by an artist residency in New Orleans five years after Hurricane Katrina, where the treatment of flood victims was still fresh in people’s minds and many historic African-American neighborhoods had been decimated. Saar teases out and weaves together literal and metaphoric histories in this work.

Alison Saar (UK Now Photo)

“Breach,” which was organized by Lafayette College Art Galleries in Easton, Pennsylvania, brings together a combination of proud and vulnerable bodies. Saar’s ability to infuse them with specificity and agency helps the viewer recognize a shared humanity while registering the complexities of race, class and gender.

A recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and Joan Mitchell Foundation Fellowships, Saar currently lives in Los Angeles. Her work can be found in the collections of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the High Museum in Atlanta, among others.

As part of her visit to Lexington, Saar worked with art studio graduate students at the UK School of Art and Visual Studies, offering critiques of their work. She was also n attendance for the opening reception for her exhibition at the museum.

Saar will present an artist lecture on Saturday, Sept. 9. As part of this free public talk, she will discuss her work and depictions of historical events and African-American legacies with Art Museum Curator Janie Welker; environmental and oral historian Kathryn Newfont, of the UK Department of History; and writer, performer and cultural geographer Carolyn Finney, of the UK Department of Geography. The lecture will begin 2 p.m., in the Singletary Center for the Arts Recital Hall.

“Breach” will be on display at the UK Art Museum Sept. 9-Dec. 3. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

The UK Art Museum, located in the Singletary Center for the Arts at Rose Street and Euclid Avenue, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free but donations are encouraged. For more information on membership, contact Lyndi VanDeursen at 859-257-8164 or lyndi.vandeursen@uky.edu.

The mission of the UK Art Museum, part of the UK College of Fine Arts, is to promote the understanding and appreciation of art to enhance the quality of life for people of Kentucky through collecting, exhibiting, preserving and interpreting outstanding works of visual art from all cultures.

Home to a collection of approximately 5,000 objects including American and European paintings, drawings, photographs, prints and sculpture, the Art Museum at UK presents both special exhibitions and shows of work from its permanent collection.

Dorothy Freeman and Whitney Hale write for UK Now

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