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Ellen Gallagher in "Play"
Working with vintage magazines, Ellen Gallagher explores both the representation of ethnicity and the essential nature of identity. In a series of large paintings, she mounts page after page in a grid so that the viewer relates to the magazines in a spatial rather than a sequential way.
“I’m collecting advertisements and stories and characters,” she says. “And I see them as conscripts in the sense that they come into my lexicon without me asking them permission.” Using an intricate printmaking process to engrave an image of Isaac Hayes, Gallagher comments “I think there is a nostalgia in my gathering of this material…yet in that gesture you’re continually moving forward and continually seeing the world.”More information
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Repetition and revision are central to Ellen Gallagher’s treatment of advertisements that she appropriates from popular magazines like Ebony and Our World. Initially drawn to wig advertisements because of their grid-like structure, she later realized that it was the accompanying language that attracted her. Gallagher began to bring these “narratives” into her paintings—making them function through the characters of the advertisements, as a kind of chart of lost worlds. Although the work has often been interpreted strictly as an examination of race, Gallagher also suggests a more formal reading with respect to materials, processes, and insistences. From afar, the work appears abstract and minimal; upon closer inspection, googly eyes, reconfigured wigs, tongues, and lips of minstrel caricatures multiply in detail.
“I think it’s sometimes hard for people who don’t make things to understand labor and joy and attention and whimsy.”