This arresting sculpture, the work of Los Angeles artist Alison Saar, is titled ‘Conjure’, and it’s tucked away in the dining courtyard of The California Endowment near Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. I first caught a glimpse of it one morning while circling the Endowment, taking in the gardens. It was early-morning, and a hypervigilant security guard was circling me, so I decided to pursue getting in to see the sculpture another day. I was finally able to do that this week (after clearing a security vetting at the front desk), and was allowed to come inside and take these pictures. And, I’m glad I did. ‘Conjure’, viewed through The Endowment’s fence was amazing, but up close it had an almost frighteningly powerful presence …
Bronze — more-than-life-size — ‘Conjure’ dominates its space. Surrounded by succulents, tropical plantings and fountains, and elevated as it is, it possesses a mythical quality appropriate to its inspirations.
Referencing traditional healers known as ‘root women’, this conjurer presents a basket of healing elements down to the viewer. What makes this piece so affecting is the visible manifestation of the source of the healer’s power: the Earth itself … Twining seamlessly, the healer’s hair becomes roots that connect her to the earth … and, her ancestor’s wisdom and history.
Saar has worked in several mediums, in styles that reference folk and outsider art, as well as traditional African forms; her work is strong, indelible, and imbued with history and color. But, it’s her sculptural pieces that include figures and root-or-antler elements that are most interesting to me. They’re primal and beautiful, and, at the same time disturbing and thought-provoking. (Click here, and here, for two more examples.) Saar’s mother, Betye, and sister Lezley, are also well-known artists; all three Saar women create work with a focus on the politics of race and gender and with deep historical roots.
Note: I hesitate to refer to ‘Conjure’ as public art, since to see it requires a security checkpoint visit to view it, and The California Endowment is a for-profit, private corporation. Below is a link to the Endowment, including a phone number for further information. I strongly recommend calling before attempting to visit.
The California Endowment, 1000 North Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; 1-(800) 449-4149