Alison Saar’s Catfish Dreamin' is a public engagement and online platform produced by Armory Center for the Arts that features a temporary installation in the Armory’s front garden; a selection of online video artworks, selected by Saar, relating to the theme of water; and a map of Los Angeles County waterways where these works may be enjoyed. The virtual presentation features works by Neelanjana Banerjee, Carolina Caycedo, Carmina Escobar with Wesam Nassar, Kate Lain, and Saar.
The installation and online platform was on view from September 17, 2021 to April 1, 2022 and accompanied the exhibition Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe, one exhibition at two venues on view from July 16 through December 12, 2021, at the Armory Center for the Arts and through December 19, 2021, at the Benton Museum at Pomona College.
Saar continued the journey of the catfish, a symbol of resilience, fortune, luck, and secrets, in Borrego Springs as part of the Candlewood Arts Festival. Through a series of free, interactive public workshops, facilitated by teaching artists from the Armory and students from Borrego Springs High School, Catfish Dreamin’ asks us to share stories with each other as we collectively imagine a future for ourselves.
Catfish Dreamin’ received generous support from the California Arts Council.
Catfish Dreamin’ Origins
Alison Saar created Catfish Dreamin’ out of a functioning 1959 Chevy pickup truck by replacing the truck's bed with a brightly painted tin-roof shed, inside of which lay a 6' wooden sculpture of a catfish, its mouth filled with smooth river stones imprinted with the word “dream.” First presented in 1993, Catfish Dreamin' was an early commission of The Contemporary, a nomadic institution founded in Baltimore. Saar drew inspiration for her travelling show from the Baltimore tradition of African-American fruit and vegetable vendors known as "arabbers." Instead of pushing local produce, Catfish Dreamin’ promoted local artistic practices and oral histories, using the globally recognized figure of the catfish to encourage participants to share their stories, dreams, and memories.
“My vision,” Saar said, “then and now, is to encourage participants to tell stories, to encourage creative expression and oral traditions. Another is to democratize art viewing, to recognize art not as something you have to go and see in a museum but something you can experience directly. Catfish Dreamin’ was one of my first pieces of public art and its significance and meaning to me is important as ever -- to me it’s a symbol of hope.”
About the Exhibition
Catfish Dreamin’ accompanies Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe an exhibition that features 29 of the artist’s multi-media and mixed installation works in one exhibition installed across the two venues. Of Aether and Earthe spans the broad spectrum of Saar’s career, from her sculptures of the early 1980s to a new installation, Hygiea, at the Armory and the large-scale, site-specific commission Imbue, installed at the Benton. Both venues require an appointment to view the exhibition; appointments to the Armory may be made here and to the Benton here.
About the Artist
Alison Saar has long been a part of the creative life of Los Angeles. Born in 1956 to mother Betye (a printmaker and assemblage artist) and father Richard (a ceramicist and art conservator), she was raised primarily in Laurel Canyon. She attributes her interest in found materials to her youth there, writing in the catalogue timeline that “at age six, we move to Laurel Canyon, and I begin to forage for roots, stones, and found objects among the ruins of the devastating Laurel Canyon fire of 1959. Having free rein in this semi-rural setting hones my love for flora and fauna.” She graduated from Scripps College in 1978 and received her MFA from the Otis Art Institute of the Parsons School of Design in 1981, both in the greater Los Angeles area. Her work has been exhibited from Brooklyn to Senegal, including in the Whitney Biennial of 1993; a solo exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, that same year; and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. Saar has completed more than a dozen public commissions, including a memorial to Harriet Tubman in Harlem, New York, and Embodied, an evocation of justice outside the Los Angeles County Hall of Justice. She is the recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, among other awards.
Major support for Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe at the Armory comes from Pasadena Art Alliance, with generous support for the Armory’s public programs from the California Arts Council, a state agency, and additional support from Betsy Greenberg. Lead support for the catalogue comes from the Fellows of Contemporary Art. At the Benton, additional exhibition support comes from the Janet Inskeep Benton ’79 Endowed Fund, the Carlton Seaver Fund, the Dr. Lucille M. Paris Endowment, and the Eva Cole and Clyde Matson Memorial Fund.
About the Collaborators
Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe, one exhibition at two venues, has been organized by Irene Georgia Tsatsos, chief curator at the Armory Center for the Arts, and Rebecca McGrew, senior curator at the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College. This project is part of the Feminist Art Coalition. (https://feministartcoalition.org)
Armory Center for the Arts, in Pasadena, California, is one of the Los Angeles region’s leading independent institutions for contemporary art and community arts education. The Armory believes that an understanding and appreciation of the arts is essential for a well-rounded human experience and a healthy civic community. The organization’s board and staff are committed to holding deep conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion; and acknowledge that these efforts are ongoing, a process of growth, and require intense self-reflection and collective consideration. Under Covid-19, and in keeping with these institutional practices, the Armory has deepened and expanded its programmatic reach to include online exhibition programs and artmaking classes, along with hands-on art activities safely delivered in-person to those with limited digital access. For more information on the Armory Center for the Arts, visit www.armoryarts.org.
Now housed in the new Benton Museum of Art designed by Machado Silvetti and Gensler, Pomona College’s collection of art numbers 15,000 objects, including Italian Renaissance paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation; works on paper, including a first edition print series by Francisco Goya given by Norton Simon; and works in various media produced in Southern California in the twentieth century. In keeping with Pomona College’s reputation as a leading center of the visual arts, the collection also includes works by such esteemed alumni as Chris Burden (’69), Marcia Hafif (’51), Helen Pashgian (’56), Peter Shelton (’73), and James Turrell (’65). Recognized globally for its commitment to contemporary art, the museum is the home of The Project Series, which has featured more than 50 contemporary Southern California artists since it began in 1999. Through its collaboration with students and faculty, the museum encourages active learning and creative exploration across all disciplines of study within the liberal arts context. For more information, call (909) 621-8283 or visit www.pomona.edu/museum.