Museum Musings: Exhibition Throwback is where SMoCA staff members reflect on memorable exhibitions from SMoCA’s past, share stories about working with artists, and why a particular exhibition continues to stick with them.
Betye Saar: Still Tickin’
January 30 – May 1, 2016
I’ve had the happy opportunity to work on many exhibitions with hundreds of artists, but one of the most special installations I can remember in all my time at SMoCA was Betye Saar: Still Tickin’. One of the greatest advantages of working in contemporary art is the personal experience of working with living artists. It’s something I try not to take for granted when we’re caught up in the beautiful chaos of museum installation.
I got to meet Betye a few times before we started installing the exhibition, I was thrilled to work with her, having been familiar with her work since college and feeling a little starstruck. One morning over breakfast before we went to the museum to begin the day, she abruptly gave me advice on how to be a mother and an artist at the same time, and I think about it almost every day.
The exhibition Still Tickin’ was a huge, three gallery retrospective that showed decades of her work not chronologically but thematically, exploring the mysticism, symbolism, and racial injustice themes in her work. One of the galleries began with a framed drawing she made as a child, a piece that she considered her first real artwork, she told me she wanted to hang it at the height of a child’s eye level in order to relate it to younger viewers. My family came to pick me up that afternoon and Betye asked if my daughter Rosie, then five years old, would be our model so we could hang the picture at the correct level and if she would give her opinion if it looked right to her. Rosie happily agreed and gave her opinion freely. I held the piece against the wall while Betye and Rosie conferred, marveling at the special and surreal moment. It felt like a gift, not just for me but knowing that my daughter also has a lifelong story to tell, about that one time that Betye Saar asked her for art hanging advice.
Laura Spalding Best, exhibitions manager