Magazine article Artforum International

Gagosian Gallery: Ellen Gallagher. (Reviews)

Magazine article Artforum International

Gagosian Gallery: Ellen Gallagher. (Reviews)

Article excerpt

Slyly lovely and perversely indirect, Ellen Gallagher's work concerns inscription and sign systems and addresses the fragmentations and provocations of racialized identity. She belongs to a generation of young artists who infuse Minimalist form with corporeal, social, and emotive content: The apparent serenity of her large, airy paintings exists in tension with the marginalia yielded by a closer look--snippets of nasty minstrelsy, secret doodles, and ragged grids of grade-school penmanship paper. In these nine canvases, comprising the artist's third exhibition in New York, all this and more was on display.

The show was titled "Blubber," a word evocative of clumsy grief and Melville's well-known chapter on "The Whiteness of the Whale"--not to mention Judy Blume's tale of particularly female grammar-school cruelty. Resonant with but not circumscribed by these citations, Blubber, 2000, is a rhythmic, lyrical painting, with a comma-like shape repeating in collaged paper and dollops of black ink. Here-as in They could still serve, 2000 a, field of pink-stained notebook sheets, and ly, 2000, a more directly calligraphic piece-- Gallagher lets a minimal palette of creamy, rosy, chalky, and occasionally bilious color do most of the signifying. Alluring and somewhat fearsomely empty, the shifting flesh-and-paper tonalities hold the images at a liminal point where the bodily shades toward the semiotic. This infusion of subjective meaning into "pure" materials also shapes Gallagher's black panels, bling bling, 2001, and the diptych Dance you monster, 2000. Encased in their glossy surfaces are accretions of cutout rubber d ots like whirlwinds of blowing hair. An anthropomorphic echo hovers around the silhouette of a tree. Portrait, pastoral, or scene of a lynching? None of the above? The pale surfaces are scarified and delicate, while the black ones are tarry, reflective, unfathomable. …

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