Ellen Gallagher by Anne Espeset
Ellen Gallagher is an African American artist that was born in Rhode Island in 1965. She attended School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston along with Oberlin College. She now lives in Rotterdam, Holland and New York. The first of Ellen Gallagher’s work was shown in the Whitney Biennial in 1995 and her career flourished ever after.
Being an African American, Gallagher was interested in her history. Her art stems from old magazine advertisements from the years between 1939 and 1972. The advertisements are from magazines such as Ebony, Our World, and Sepia. These advertisements that Gallagher collected are for products like wigs and hair care and also for services offered. Gallagher stated that she was drawn to such advertisements because of a narrative that they showed between the images and the text. Also, she was drawn to the advertisements for a more formalist reason – she liked the often grid-like structures that the wig advertisements were in. Gallagher manipulates the advertisements with different materials like googly eyes, a collage of paper, and ink. She also uses plasticine to cover the images in a manner.
Ellen Gallagher’s work deals with the issue of race, similar to the artist Lorna Simpson. They both are looking into the history of African Americans, but both artists do so in a somewhat different way. Ellen Gallagher’s work seems a little more playful then Lorna Simpson’s pieces because of the different mediums used. Even though Gallagher’s pieces are not as straight forward as Simpson’s, her work still tries to bring forth the history of African Americans and their struggles within society and identity.
The use of these advertisements is for a political purpose. Gallagher depicts a racial identity and personal identity crisis within the work. Also it shows the way that media portrays the ideal person. This in turn then makes the viewer think about what would be the ideal identity.
I would recommend attending an exhibition of Gallagher’s. The work is a mixture between the Pop-Art of the 1960’s and the grid-like structures of Agnes Martin. The way that Gallagher installs the individual pieces that she created is very appeasing to me. Also, the work is interesting because of the individual advertisements that are used in her work. The narratives are easily seen and would be interesting to see a transformation of advertisements with time.
"Ellen Gallagher Bibliography." Art 21. 2007. 23 Nov. 2008
"Ellen Gallagher: Murmur and DeLuxe." Museum of Contemporary Art. 2005. MOCA. 23 Nov. 2008
to access some of Ellen Gallagher's artwork: