Ellen Gallagher: Nu-Nile at the Power Plant, Toronto, Canada.
On view 23 through September 3, 2018.
The Power Plant presents Ellen Gallagher's first solo exhibition in Canada.
Born in the port city of Providence, Rhode Island, 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 long 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) that examines the impact on humans and nature caused by the construction of the interstate highway I 10. Running through New Orleans and the Atchafalaya Swamp, the highway was part of a period of mass construction during the mid-20th century that segregated working class and especially immigrant communities from new urban centres. The exhibition draws connections between this recent North American history to Gallagher’s sea bed paintings that evoke the people of Drexciya, an Atlantis built by pregnant African women who were thrown from slave ships during the Middle Passage. A series of black paintings was prompted by the discovery of Malevich’s Black Square (1915) having been painted on top of a proto-cubistic painting. The title of Gallagher’s series Negroes Battling in a Cave (2016) makes reference to the handwritten note at the edge of Malevich’s canvas that was revealed through an X-ray.
Nu-Nile reveals Gallagher’s practice to involve synthesizing a wide range of pictorial traditions in order to counter static representations of black people in culture, and reasserts the black figure grounded within the canon of Western painting. The artist critically examines and reworks the figure-ground protocols in the Western canon by employing archetypal forms.
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.