Los Angeles Times
AROUND THE GALLERIES
3 March, 2006

Energy bursts from wooden forms


On paper, the conceptual underpinnings of Alison Saar's first exhibition with L.A. Louver might easily be construed as simplistic. Most of the sculptures revolve around stylized female figures resembling African totems and a few familiar, racially inflected symbols - primarily hair, black birds and cast iron skillets.

Cache

In person, however, the works have an intensity of presence that transcends easy characterizations, thanks to masterly manipulation of basic but evocative materials. The figures are carved out of wood and coated either in paint or scraps of hammered ceiling tin, resulting in a warm, folksy spectrum of tones and textures. Though stiff, they're full-bodied and sensual, their postures bursting with energy. Their hair is made from strands of thick,
black wire and its abundance, as in much of Saar's previous work, is beguiling and formidable.

In "Cache," hair snakes from the head of a sleeping figure into an enormous, yarn-like ball. In "Treetops," it's lifted in tangled locks by three small black birds. In "Tango" it stretches from the heads of two individual figures into a thick knot between them, binding them in a way that feels simultaneously intimate and violent.

The rich materiality of the work enriches its political dimension - as in "Suckle," a wall installation of cast iron pans, each molded with a single breast - and lends an elemental quality that feels almost magical. One of the most enchanting is "4N'20," which consists of a single wood figure, roughly hewn and stained a deep, dirty red, with a tree branch growing from the center of her chest, on which three black birds are perched. It's a small work - only 30 inches tall - but a startlingly commanding presence in the room.
 
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