Saar Soars at Auction

Courtesy of Swann Galleries

Detail from Betye Saar's color intaglio and screenprint, Return to Dreamland.

The bold assemblage of Betye Saar was the focus of a feature story in our winter 2021 issue, when the Morgan Library hosted a major exhibition of her work. Prior to that, another major Saar show originated at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and traveled to New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

The 94-year-old artist has been collectible for some time, but when four of her pieces were offered at Swann last week, I wondered if this flurry of renewed interest in her work would drive up prices as well.

All four sold—and all over estimate. The piece pictured above, Return to Dreamtime, a color intaglio and screen print from 1990, was the least expensive lot, at $2,750.

Courtesy of Swann Galleries

Betye Saar, Sojourn, Mixed-media assemblage in a wooden box, 1995.

However, her 1995 mixed-media assemblage in a wooden box, Sojourn, was by far the most expensive at $87,500. In fact, it set a new record for Saar at auction—breaking the one made only five months ago when her 2001 assemblage, ABCD Education, sold for $81,900.

“I am thrilled to see the continued growth in our African American art auctions with a tremendous sale. We saw a huge interest in the April 22 auction—it was our second largest grossing sale in the history of the department with the highest number of participants,” said Nigel Freeman, director of African American art at Swann Galleries. “We set 13 artist records and saw high prices all around for many artists. Auction high prices ranged from modern painters like Charles Alston, Beauford Delaney and Hale Woodruff to contemporary assemblage artists like Bisa Butler, Howardena Pindell and Betye Saar.”

Other recent Saar sales include her 2001 mixed-media collage on paper, Honey, which sold for $44,100 this past December, and her 1973 mixed-media shadowbox, Adori, which realized $42,500 back in 2018.