Ellen Gallagher at Tate: A contender for spring’s most exciting art show


Ellen Gallagher’s strange, beautiful and original work processes a multitude of different ideas – from sci-fi and myth to nature and social history.

Although one of the most acclaimed North American artists to have emerged since the mid-1990s, this is her first significant UK solo show.

Gallagher’s heritage is a mixture of Cape Verdean and Irish Catholic, and she is an imaginative explorer of notions of race – in one series she uses bright yellow Plasticine to surreally embellish a giant grid of found images taken from vintage Afro-American lifestyle magazines, continuing her long-standing practice of repeating and subverting the caricatured facial motifs of vaudeville minstrels.

Of equal importance is an obsession with the sea and its inhabitants, both scientific and imaginary, and a skilled combination of multiple medias.

2006’s Bird In Hand, for instance, builds up layers of paint, gold leaf and various other materials to create an intricate…

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