Ellen Gallagher: Nu-Nile

23 Jun 2018 – 3 Sep 2018

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Ellen Gallagher has long been an inspired and imaginative chronicler of the watery ecstatic realm.


Her large-scale history paintings featuring seascapes, science experiments, portraiture, abstraction and minstrelsy are mutinous assertions of blackness in a medium in which the African body has habitually been concealed. Her exploration of visual culture covers a wide ranging temporal terrain stretching from blackface minstrelsy to 20th-century abstraction, and includes mining of vernacular forms as diverse as science fiction, advertising, mid-century race magazines, travelogues and scrimshaw in order to address and release the concealed threads which bind the visible.

Encompassing paintings, drawings and films, Gallagher’s first exhibition in Canada takes its starting point from her and Edgar Cleijne’s most recent film installation Highway Gothic (2017), an examination of the impact Interstate Highway 10 had on humans and nature. Running through New Orleans and the Atchafalaya Swamp, the Highway was part of a period of mass construction during the mid-20th century which segregated working class, especially immigrant communities, from new urban centres. The exhibition draws connections between this recent North American history and Gallagher’s sea bed paintings that evoke the people of Drexciya, an Atlantis built by the in utero descendants of African women who leapt or were jettisoned from slave ships during the Middle Passage. The artist’s series of black paintings, Negroes Battling in a Cave (2016), was prompted by the discovery that Malevich’s Black Square (1915) had been painted on top of a proto-cubistic painting. Its title makes reference to a handwritten note at the edge of Malevich’s canvas, recently unearthed during restoration. 

Nu-Nile reveals Gallagher’s practice of synthesizing a wide range of pictorial traditions in order to counter static representations of black people in culture, and critically examines and reimagines the figure-ground protocols circulating within the canon of Western painting.

Ellen Gallagher (born 1965 in Providence, Rhode Island) lives and works in Rotterdam and New York. Recent solo exhibitions of her work have been organized at Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm (2018); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2014); Sara Hildén Art Museum, Tampere, Finland (2013); SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, USA (2013); New Museum, New York (2013); and Tate Modern, London, UK (2013). Recent group exhibitions include Columbia University Wallach Art Gallery, New York (2018); Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (2017); Contemporary Arts Centre, New Orleans (2017); Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid (2017); Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2017); The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2017); WIELS, Brussels (2017); Museum of Modern Art Warsaw (2017); and Mrac – Musée régional d’art contemporain, Sérignan, France (2017). In 2015 her work was featured in the Venice Biennial.


Carolin Köchling

Exhibiting artistsToggle

Ellen Gallagher


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