Delirious Hem

Artist: Ellen Gallagher (American, born Providence, Rhode Island 1965)

Date: 1995

Medium: Graphite and colored pencil on papers, mounted on canvas

Dimensions: 84 x 72 1/4in. (213.4 x 183.5cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Gift of Norman Dubrow, 2010

Accession Number: 2010.427.3


Ellen Gallagher's debut on the New York art scene in 1995 at the Whitney Biennial and subsequent one-person show at Mary Boone Gallery in 1996 (where Delirious Hem was shown) brought her instant critical attention. Her large "paintings" - actually crafted from multiple sheets of drawn paper pasted in rows to a caveat support - combine the post-modernist interest in race, gender, and identity with the grid aesthetic of Minimalism. Neither wholly pictorial nor abstract, her works can be read on many different levels, and they suggest visual sources as diverse as patchwork quilts, African textiles, and Agnes Martin paintings. Small line drawings of thick lips (an allusion to the negative stereotyping of African Americans in blackface minstrel shows) are embedded throughout this composition. Clustered in small groupings that resemble beaded bracelets and barely visible under the sheets of blue-lined penmanship paper that form the rectangles in the center, these racial signifiers are a disturbing undertow in an otherwise seemingly lyrical image.