Arts & Culture

Beyond the 'Breach': Artist Alison Saar Explores Impact of Great Flood on African Americans

photo of visitors to opening reception of "Breach" by Alison Saar
photo of Dean Mark Shanda and Alison Saar at "Breach"
photo of "Acheron" by Alison Saar
photo of "Muddy Water Mambo" by Alison Breach
photo of "Breach" by Alison Saar
photo of Alison Saar with UK art studio MFA students

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 14, 2017) — Early this month as the University of Kentucky Art Museum staff unpacked Alison Saar's "Breach," an exhibition that investigates the 1927 Great Mississippi River Flood, they could not help but be aware of how relevant the work is to the tragic situation in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Alison Saar is a sculptor, installation artist, painter and printmaker equally adept at carving wood, assembling found objects or creating canvases out of materials with their own histories: sugar sacks, mattress ticking and old linens.

Her interest in the historic flood was triggered by an artist residency in New Orleans five years after Hurricane Katrina, where the treatment of flood victims was still fresh in people’s minds and many historic African-American neighborhoods had been decimated. Saar teases out and weaves together literal and metaphoric histories in this work.

“Breach,” which was organized by Lafayette College Art Galleries in Easton, Pennsylvania, brings together a combination of proud and vulnerable bodies. Saar’s ability to infuse them with specificity and agency helps the viewer recognize a shared humanity while registering the complexities of race, class and gender.

A recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and Joan Mitchell Foundation Fellowships, Saar currently lives in Los Angeles. Her work can be found in the collections of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the High Museum in Atlanta, among others.

Last weekend, Saar visited Lexington for a couple museum events presented in conjunction with the exhibition and offered critiques to art studio graduate students at the UK School of Art and Visual Studies on their work. 

“Breach” is on display at the UK Art Museum through Dec. 3. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

The UK Art Museum, located in the Singletary Center for the Arts at Rose Street and Euclid Avenue, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free but donations are encouraged. For more information on membership, contact Lyndi VanDeursen at 859-257-8164 or

The mission of the UK Art Museum, part of the UK College of Fine Arts, is to promote the understanding and appreciation of art to enhance the quality of life for people of Kentucky through collecting, exhibiting, preserving and interpreting outstanding works of visual art from all cultures. Home to a collection of approximately 5,000 objects including American and European paintings, drawings, photographs, prints and sculpture, the Art Museum at UK presents both special exhibitions and shows of work from its permanent collection.