March 11, 2003 - Saint Louis Art Museum - Ellen Gallagher at the Saint Louis Art Museum
March 11, 2003

Ellen Gallagher at the Saint Louis Art Museum

Ellen Gallagher
18/03/2003 - 11/05/2003

Saint Louis Art Museum
1 Fine Arts Drive
Forest Park
Saint Louis, MO 63110


Currents 88: Ellen Gallagher

On view in Gallery 337 and Sculpture Hall

Public lecture and exhibition tour by the artist at the Museum on March 18 at 6:30 pm

Image: Ellen Gallagher, POMP-BANG, 2003 (detail), Photo by Scott Smith

The Saint Louis Art Museum is pleased to present new work by Ellen
Gallagher as part of its Currents series on contemporary art.
Gallagher is this year’s Freund Fellow, and the exhibition will feature a
major new painting made by the artist during her fellowship in St. Louis.
POMP-BANG, 2003, is a monumental canvas supporting a grid of 396 paper sheets. To make the painting, Gallagher scanned images from the pages of
One World, Ebony, and Black Stars (all publications
targeted to black audiences) and collaged them onto the surface of her canvas. She focused
on advertising imagery that appeared in these magazines from the late
1930s into the early 1970s, a period during which texts by distinguished
black authors were juxtaposed with a curious variety of advertised
products: astringents, laxatives, corn removers, religious advice, and
rates at the dubious Peg-Leg Motel. While feature articles such as
“System: Internal colonialism structures black, white relations in
America,” sought to deconstruct and historicize the role of race
in American society, much of the advertising offered thinly veiled tips for
making black women look less black through the use of skin lighteners,
curl relaxers, and above all, wigs.

The format of this painting yields multiple associations with periodic
tables, typologogies, and urban plans, but the most cogent is the
cartographic grid. POMP-BANG can read as a map’s legend to
an arcane site excavated by Gallagher’s archival work and subsequent baroque
adornment. Some of the icons to be found there – a wig in the form of an
octopus, the quixotic Peg-Leg Bates, fish bait – also figure in a luxurious
suite of drawings. Watery Ecstatic, a series of white-on-white collages
begun in 2001, is as loose and flowing as POMP-BANG and its pendants are
tightly demarcated. While dissimilar in terms of scale, medium, and technique,
the monumental painting and the works on paper share leitmotifs of the
fragmented body and aquatic imagery. In this exhibition,
Gallagher’s vocabulary of signs is recombined and reworked, its incarnations varying
in tone depending upon context: now menacing, now playful, and always
ravishingly rendered.

Saint Louis Art Museum
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