The Los Angeles Times: Alison Saar turns things 'Topsy Turvy' at L.A. Louver

An installation shot of five sculptures by Alison Saar
Thursday, April 19, 2018
Saar's (MFA Fine Arts '81) Work On View Through May 12
Leah Ollman

When we first meet Topsy in the pages of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the enslaved young girl grins, "goblin-like," and repeatedly professes her wickedness. She embodies blackness to her young mistress Eva's whiteness; she plays devil to Eva's saint, base earth to Eva's ethereal spirit. She comes into the St. Clare family as a civilizing project, a heathen to be educated, tamed, Christianized.

When we encounter the sculpted Topsy in Alison Saar's vital show at L.A. Louver, she bristles with self-possession. The "sundry little tails" of her "woolly hair," emblems in the novel of her wild, chaotic nature, have been rendered as wire twists radiating from her head like a spiky halo of energy.

In one arresting piece, the chiseled and tarred wood figure stands with a sickle in one hand and a gold-leafed shock of hair in the other. Saar makes Topsy at once into the mythic Jason returning with the Golden Fleece, a warrior announcing her conquest via bloody scalp, and a distorted echo of the little girl in Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, treasuring the golden lock granted her by Eva upon her deathbed.

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Image: An installation shot of five sculptures by Alison Saar: "Rice" (sickle), "Cotton" (bale hook), "Indigo" (hoe), "Sugar Cane" (machete), "Tobacco" (tobacco knife) all 2018, made of wood, copper, ceiling tin, bronze, tar and vintage found tools. (Jeff McLane / L.A. Louver)