Ellen Gallagher’s hair pieces at PMA

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I was on my way to the press preview of the Michael Hoffman tribute show “Golden Harvest” at the PMA. (more on that later) Stella, a photography buff with a good eye, was along. We pulled up short in front of an Ellen Gallagher drawing in the hallway between the coat check and the gift shop. Stella was not so impressed but I think the six-panel multi-media work riffing on race, class, culture and beauty is worth a trip to the museum all you drawing artists.

Libby told you about Gallagher’s Two Palms print at Works on Paper gallery in her post. That show’s up through June if you want to catch a cross-town mini Gallagher-athon.

Gallagher was included in the Studio Museum’s great “Black Belt’ exhibit last year. She had a couple of collaborative video works that also riffed on hair, in science fiction and underwater realms. Read Libby’s post for more on that.

The PMA work, a 2004 piece called “Wish-Whish-Whisk,” is baroque and wackily wonderful. (shown is detail at top and one panel)

Arrays of tiny faces painted in watercolor dot the six panels. They resemble heads of freshmen in high school yearbooks and are approximately the size of a thumbnail. All the faces seem to be African American women, but the gender is kind of ambiguous. What pushes them over the top is the sculptural flourishes Gallagher adds — cut paper swirls and plastecine which she uses to partly obliterate the image (or adorn it I suppose is another way of looking at it). The hair takes over the face in fact becoming mask-like in a carnivalesque sort of way.

Gallagher’s mining a vein having to do with water in this and other works in a series called “Watery Ecstatic.” The wall card next to “Wish” quoted the artist as saying something about how ultimately everything turns white in the water…ie water is the great leveler.

For more background on Gallagher, a 1995 Whitney Biennial grad, read this blurb from show she had at the Drawing Center.

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