Woke Up This Morning, the Blues was in My Bed


The title of this tableau references “Empty Bed Blues,” a song recorded by Bessie Smith in 1928. The cot can be seen as a spirit bottle bed, akin to the traditional bottle tree used by the Kongo civilization in west-central Africa to ward off evil spirits. Saar used the cot, which she bought at a secondhand store on Western Avenue in Los Angeles, in at least two earlier installations (in 1990 and 1994); she loves not only using recycled objects but also recycling them herself. In a February 2001 sketch—the first of four she made for this work—Saar introduced the idea that the cot would sit on a bed of coal, a material that evokes energy and change.

Betye Saar
Woke Up This Morning, the Blues was in My Bed, 2019
Metal cot, glass bottles, neon, and coal
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California. © Betye Saar.
Robert Wedemeyer