February 4, 2014 - Haus der Kunst - Ellen Gallagher
February 4, 2014

Ellen Gallagher

Ellen Gallagher, Preserve, 2001. © Ellen Gallagher. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Ellen Gallagher: AxME
28 February–13 July 2014

Haus der Kunst
Prinzregentenstrasse 1
80538 Munich
Hours: Monday–Sunday 10am–8pm,
Thursday 10am–10pm

T +49 (0) 89 21127 113
F +49 (0) 89 21127 157
mail [​at​] hausderkunst.de


With Ellen Gallagher: AxME Haus der Kunst presents the work of African-American artist Ellen Gallagher, whose visual language is based on three cornerstones: the struggle over colonies with the formation of the modern world; the conceptual accomplishments of the arts in the 1960s and 1970s; and the notion of the archive as a dialectical linking of form and content. Previous presentations which concentrated on different concepts of emerging modernity included Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life, as well as monographic shows with works by Kendell Geers and Ivan Kožarić, on display in 2013.

As the first major solo exhibition of the artist’s work, the exhibition provides a unique opportunity to explore her twenty-year career, exploring the themes which have emerged and recurred from her seminal early canvases, through to recent bodies of work. The exhibition includes such key works as DeLuxe, 2004–5; Bird in Hand, 2006, a complex relief built up in layers of printed matter, plasticine, crystal, paint and gold leaf; and selected paintings from her black and yellow series, “Moon-Glo,” 2010, and “Pomp-Bang,” 2003.

The exhibition’s playful title, AxME, explicitly references to the cartoon Don’t Axe Me (1958), a Looney Tunes classic, and to the colloquial alteration of “Ask me.” Ellen Gallagher had used the same play on words for her solo exhibition at New Museum, New York (Don’t axe me, June 19–September 15, 2013).

Ellen Gallagher (b. 1965; Providence, Rhode Island) continued to explore the tension between abstraction and figuration, transforming imagery from an eclectic range of literature, music, science fiction, advertising and natural history. Through a painstaking process of obscuring and layering these images, 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.

Under the auspices of the Sea Education Association (SEA) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, twenty-year-old Ellen Gallagher in 1986 spent a semester aboard an oceanographic research vessel examining the migratory patterns of pteropods—microscopic wing-footed snails. She spent her nights catching the tiny creatures and part of her days 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. Gallagher 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. Squiggles of pink plasticine cover their eyes. Each model is captioned with her wig’s brand name: E-Bangs, Fifi, Innocence, Afro-Swirly, and so on.

Beginning with Preserve (2001), the works show accumulations of eyes, lips and spores constructed with plasticines and paint and boxed in alongside the advertisements. The ads also became the basis for a series of five monumental 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.

In among its many permutations a gradual shift can be traced from the all-over structure reminiscent of a grid to the operations of figure against ground, developing figuration out of abstraction. Gallagher’s paintings and drawings manifest their simultaneous recourse to the strategies of drawing, writing, painting, collaging, and the sculptural process of carving and moulding, relief and intaglio printing, as well as xeroxing and other photo-based, planographic means.

Organised by Tate Modern in association with Sara Hildén Art Museum, Tampere and Haus der Kunst, Munich. The exhibition is curated by Juliet Bingham, Tate Modern, for the presentation in Munich in collaboration with Ulrich Wilmes. 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.

We would like to thank our shareholders for their annual support of the program: Freistaat Bayern, Josef Schörghuber Stiftung, Gesellschaft der Freunde Haus der Kunst e.V.

Currently on view at Haus der Kunst:

Abraham Cruzvillegas: The Autoconstrucción Suites
25 January–25 May

Pictures in Time
Goetz Collection at Haus der Kunst
25 January–15 June

Der Öffentlichkeit – Von der Freunden Haus der Kunst: Manfred Pernice
18 October 2013–21 September

Coming soon:
Matthew Barney: River of Fundament
16 March–17 August

Haus der Kunst
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