Ellen Gallagher — AxME
EXHIBITION 28.02 – 13.07.14
Ellen Gallagher (born 1965) brings together imagery from myth, nature, art and social history to create complex works in a wide variety of media, including painting, drawing, relief, collage, print, sculpture, and film.
Through a painstaking process of obscuring and layering she transforms imagery from an eclectic range of literature, music, or advertising until only traces of them are left visible through a veil of inky smudges, punctures, stains and abrasions to suggest a strange and unsettling imaginary world.
In 1986 Ellen Gallagher spent a semester aboard an oceanographic research vessel examining the migratory patterns of pteropods – microscopic wing-footed snails, and drawing them. In a series of watercolours she recalls these studies of natural history ("Coral Cities", 2007). The people of 'Drexciya' represent the main inhabitants of this series. Drexciya is a mythic black Atlantis at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean founded by pregnant African women who leapt or were thrown from slave ships during the Middle Passage and gave birth to offspring capable of breathing underwater. Gallgher populates her canvases with women protected by Afro wigs made of vibrant sea creatures and marine flora; women with flowing coral hairs; and jellyfish-like figures with African faces. For Gallagher, the overboard, drowned slaves are carriers of ideas of regeneration and transhistorical nation. As an Exodus narrative, Gallagher's watercolours are not simply about escape but about the New Land, new beginnings, new identities formed in the context of emancipation.
Ellen Gallagher took the New York art world by storm in the early 1990s with a series of beautifully balanced, deceptively minimalist paintings such as "Oh! Susanna" (1993), "Oogaboogah", and "Pinocchio Theory" (both 1994). In a series of work she used advertisements for wigs and other commodities as well as feature articles from black-oriented magazines like Ebony, Our World, Black Stars, etc. One of her most intriguing works consists of a grid of twenty female wig models of various skin shades set against a vast white background. The wigs are meticulously cut into elaborate shapes and float on paper as if embossed.
Beginning with "Preserve" (2001), the works show accumulations of eyes, lips and spores constructed with plasticine and paint and boxed in alongside the advertisements. The ads also became the basis for a series of five monumenal works comprising 396 portraits laid out on a grid, among them "Pomp-Bang" (2003), referred to by Ellen Gallagher as the 'yellow paintings'. The grid allows for non-linear, random reading, inviting the viewer to imagine intersecting narratives.
This survey exhibition takes an overview of Gallagher's practice, exploring the themes which have emerged and recurred from her seminal early canvases, to her 'wigmap' grid collages, through to recent film installations and new bodies of work.
Organized by Tate Modern in association with Sara Hildén Art Museum, Tampere and Haus der Kunst, Munich. With thanks to Gagosian Gallery and Hauser & Wirth for their support towards the Ellen Gallagher: AxME international tour.
We thank Bayerische Hausbau GmbH & Co.KG for their generous support as principle sponsor of the exhibition at Haus der Kunst.
Stretch your view
Stretch your view
Ulrich Wilmes: Ellen Gallagher
Catalogue essay about the cornerstones of the artist's visual language MORE
Artist talk with Ellen Gallagher
Artist talk on the occasion of the exhibition opening "Ellen Gallagher: AxME" MORE
Okwui Enwezor in Frieze on Ellen Gallagher
In his article, Okwui Enwezor explores Ellen Gallagher's early work, which created excitement in the New York art scene in the early 1990s. MORE
Art in Review — Review in New York Times on Ellen Gallagher
"Some people have trouble with Ellen Gallagher's work. Is it the combination of prettiness and politics that make it suspect?" MORE
Worksheets on "Ellen Gallagher — AxME"
Worksheets on topics related to the exhibition "Ellen Gallagher — AxME" can be downloaded here (in German). MORE