AxME

I recently had a lucky opportunity to visit Ellen Gallagher's exhibition AxME at the Tate Modern in London, before its ending.
It is a great show, the very first major retrospective in the UK of this American artist, displayed through eleven rooms.
The title, AxME is referring to they way black native American were pronouncing 'ask me' and also to the 'Acme Corporation' a fictional company featuring in the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoon. 

Her artistic world is soaked in an American culture but experienced through a personal family perspective and origin. Being of a biracial ethnicity (the father was born in US but his family was from Cape Verde and her mother was Irish), her imagery goes from wigs advertisement in vintage African American magazines and African diaspora to oceanography, science fictions and writings of Gertrude Stein (American writer and poet).

I saw Callagher's work for the first time in Santiago de Compostela at the opening show "Afro Modern. Journeys through the Black Atlantic" at Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea. The artwork was Bird in Hand
Since then I couldn't forget his art.
This work, made of many layers, includes many aspects of Gallagher's favourite themes. It speaks also about history, slave trade history. The central figure is a pirate of the Caribbean. His head and hair are growing like a tree where in each branch, hundred of faces and objects are showing a world very alive. Gold leaf and paper are skillfully organised to complete the artwork.
Bird in Hand (2006) Oil paint, ink, paper, polymer, salt and gold leaf on canvas. Support: 2383 x 3072 mm Collection: Tate. © Ellen Gallagher
Walking inside each room it has been a thought-provoking experience. 
Inside the first room, a big collage entitled Odalisque shows the artist modeling for Sigmund Freud. The image is based on a photo taken by Man Ray in 1928 to portrait painter Henri Matisse sketching a model. 

Odalisque, 2005 Mixed Media on Paper
19.7 × 17.8 cm Gagosian


Wiglette from DeLuxe 2004: 'A very late-flowering strain of surrealism'. Photograph: courtesy of Gagosian

I especially enjoyed her interventions on vintage magazines. Women attention to the hair style is here shown by applying plasticine and color to the hair and faces. Eyeballs are often cut out but they come back again repeatedly in many other works.
DeLuxe, 2004-5. 60 works on paper, etching, screenprint, lithograph with plasticine, velvet, toy eyeballs and coconut oil
frame (each): 389x325x46 mm overall display dimensions: 2149x4527 mm

It is one of those shows where you would love to come back again to spend more time in front of this or that artwork. I would never have enough of Callagher's fantastic world.




Ellen Gallagher was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1965 and now lives and works in Rotterdam and New York. Her work is held in many major public collections, including MoMA and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Centre Pompidou, Paris.

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