In this exhibition titled "Terra Incognita," Alison Saar presents 19 recent figurative sculptures, including a group of wall-hung iron skillets, the bottoms of which are painted with portraits. All of the works are related to Saar's ongoing exploration of feminist themes, especially those pertinent to African-American women. Saar makes her point without a lot of heavy-handed grandstanding. She relays her visual thought simply and eloquently, with the utmost attention to detail and superb craftsmanship evident in each work.
The show starts out provocatively enough with High Yeller, a life-size female figure hanging upside down from the ceiling near the gallery entrance. A sheer skirt covering her head, the figure makes an obvious allusion to lynching, but this victim is apparently white skinned. On the other side of the room, the wonderful White Noise is an intriguing African goddess made of wood, tin and plaster painted white. Installed in the corner space of the room, this diminutive woman commands the space with remarkable effect.
Da Durt is another homage to African art. This extremely abstracted crouching figure recalls the ritual animal shapes of the Boli people. One of the best pieces on view, Compton Nocturne, is a life-size reclining female figure made of ceiling tin, and features an arrangement of black wooden branches capped with bottles that constitutes one of the most outlandish hairdos you're likely to see this season. A Medusa? An exotic Odalisque? A drunken streetwalker? A lonely Venus? This Earth-mother goddess, like all of the other figures on view, is wildly imaginative and thoroughly compelling.
Alison Saar, "Terra Incognita," Sept. 18-Oct. 30, 1999 at Phyllis Kind, 136 Greene, New York, N.Y. 10012.