Ellen Gallagher

Untitled (1998)

About this artwork

The American artist Ellen Gallagher created 'Untitled' as one of a series of large black paintings begun in 1998. Seven large geometric forms appear to float on the hard surface. But closer inspection reveals these shapes to be carefully constructed from identical silver lips lined up in rows, their exaggerated style recalling the vaudeville traditions of American blackface minstrelsy. The broad black surface could thereby be seen as a stand-in for the minstrel stage. In this and similar works Gallagher presents a stark contrast between image and meaning; the sleek surface and structured forms reference the purity of American abstract minimalism, while this simplicity is undercut by taboo subject matter relating to her African-American origins.

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  • title: Untitled
  • accession number: AR00067
  • artist: Ellen GallagherAmerican (born 1965)
  • gallery: In Storage
  • object type: Painting
  • subject: Dreams, illusions and memory
  • medium: Embossed paper in frame
  • date created: 1998
  • measurements: 305.30 x 244.40 x 3.80 cm
  • credit line: ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
  • copyright: © Ellen Gallagher
This artwork is part of Artist Rooms

Ellen Gallagher

Ellen Gallagher

Gallagher’s work is infused with issues of race, gender and history. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, she has both Irish and African-American origins. This has influenced her work a great deal. She appropriates imagery from old magazines directed at African-American women and places it alongside the writings of Gertrude Stein and ideas from science fiction. With repetition and revision central characteristics, much of her earlier work initially appears abstract. Yet on closer inspection, the lines and grids are composed of motifs relating to racial stereotypes. She works in a variety of materials including paint, plasticine, enamel and rubber to create complex surfaces that push the traditions and boundaries of painting. She studied in Ohio, Boston and Maine, and moved to New York in 1997.