Lot 3
  • 3

ELLEN GALLAGHER | Untitled

Estimate
100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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Description

  • Ellen Gallagher
  • Untitled
  • signed on the reverse
  • pigment, pencil and paper on canvas 
  • 152.4 by 96.5 cm. 60 by 38 in.
  • Executed in 1992.

Provenance

Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, St. Louis
Acquired from the above by the present owner 

Catalogue Note

Inspired by her African-American and Irish heritage, Ellen Gallagher injects narrative, symbolism and African-American history into the forms of conventional 1960s Minimalism. Subtly containing reference to what the artist refers to as ‘the disembodied ephemera of minstrelsy’, the present work belongs to a series of large scale works from the early-mid 1990s in which delicately drawn references to racist caricature – blubber lips and popping eyes for example – are superimposed over a field of textured and collaged penmanship paper. An early example of this breakthrough series, the present work was first shown as part of Gallagher’s degree show at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; an event that led to the travelling scholar award and subsequent exhibition at the MFA, Boston that first launched her career. As a sign of its cultural and artistic weight, this corpus is incredibly well represented institutionally: Oh Susanna! (1995) resides in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Delirious Hem (1995) is owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Afro Puff (1996) was acquired by Tate, London in 2017; while Paper Cup (1996) is in the joint collection of The National Galleries of Scotland and Tate, to name only a few examples. Interested in the subtle shifts that occur with repetition, Gallagher has long been interested in the writing of Gertrude Stein, for whom repletion was employed to imbue her words with deeper significance, as well as the subtle rhythmic geometric abstraction of Agnes Martin.  At first viewing, Gallagher’s work explicitly invokes Martin’s minimalist forms, and yet close inspection reveals thousands of tactile interventions, disjointed collage elements and meticulous hand-drawn motifs; contortions that satirise Minimalism’s piously clean lines. The work concentrates the ‘all- over’ pattern of pencilled markings at breast height to create a body that is both abstract and abject. By cutting and scratching into the pulped paper substrate of the painting, Gallagher often slices through the surface to reveal the canvas beneath. A rich tapestry, the unevenly-aligned squares of Untitled also evoke patchworks from the Southern states of North America, and, further back in history, the African kente cloth from which such embroidery originated.

The present work thematically foreshadows some of Gallagher’s more recent pieces, including the grid-like collages of Pomp-Bang and Bouffant Pride, both made in 2003. Appropriating found advertisements aimed at African-American women for hair tonics, skin-lighteners and wigs, all taken from vintage editions of EbonyOur World and Black Stars, Gallagher collaged magazine pages to suggest prosthetic enhancements that diminish blackness. Using plasticine, rubber and coconut oil, she conferred exaggeratedly scarlet lips, rendered their eyes bleach-white with scissors, and adorned them with elaborate blonde hairstyles. By so eloquently satirising the mechanism of oppression enacted by magazines, Gallagher retroactively frees the women depicted in the original advertisements; their images now – far from passive in cultural-products testifying only to cruelty – play an active role in Gallagher’s creative practice. Hugely respected as a cerebral mixed-media artist – with a virtuosic attention to detail and an acute, humorous wit in confronting important issues surrounding Black identity and representation – Gallagher’s first major museum retrospective in the United Kingdom was the subject of much critical acclaim when it opened at Tate Modern in 2013.

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