Review: Ellen Gallagher AxME - Tate Modern

Review: Ellen Gallagher AxME - Tate Modern

Ellen Gallagher is one of the most acclaimed contemporary artists to have emerged from North America since the mid-1990s. Her gorgeously intricate and highly imaginative works are realised with a wealth of virtuoso detail and wit. This is her first major solo exhibition in the UK, providing the first ever opportunity to explore an overview of her twenty-year career. (The Tate)

Having only chosen this exhibition for our next Meet-Up (join our meet-up group here) as an effort to encourage creatives to engage with a style of work that many find uncomfortable and vexatious, I have to say I left it feeling totally exhausted. Not only had I just experienced (without knowing it) a lecture in American black history, but an encounter with mark making that I thought only existed in fine art students' sketch books (obviously completed after the project was finished as an effort to convince their keen tutors that they had thought things through).

Ellen makes references to all sorts of weird and potent mementoes from Moby Dick, Sol LeWitt and Detroit techno, to the more extreme exaggerated black racial stereotypes, through a range of intricate mark making techniques. But none more iconic than her photomontage trademark plasticine play with 50s African-American female hair styling magazines such as Ebony and Sepia. Adverts promoting transformation in an effort to find 'beauty'. Ellen defaces them, and not once, but hundreds of times. Filling rooms with wigs of yellow plasticine and black faces with no eyes. The same eyes that watch you wander through the entire exhibition featuring on a number of pieces.

This sizeable exhibition, AxME at the Tate Modern, represents a 20 year plus career (spanning across 11 rooms). It's the kind of exhibition that every illustrator, designer, painter or visual communicator should see. Not because they will enjoy every piece, like the style, or even understand many of the rooms, but because of how this exhibition will catch your emotions un aware. Ellen will make you work hard, to devolve and interact with her thought processes, anger and frustrations with what she sees.

This isn't an easy body of work in any sense of the word. But it is work that has been driven by a need to respond in some way to the world around us. Ellen just choses to do that quite differently from most.

Exhibition open until 1 September 2013.

Adult £11.00 (without donation £10.00)
Concession £9.50 (without donation £8.60)
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Book tickets in advance

  • Image/photo credits:
  • Tate Modern
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