American artist Ellen Gallagher’s work aims to unsettle but proves strangely underpowered in this huge retrospective, says Laura Cumming
Yesterday was a busy day, I will admit it! This was the second exhibition I visited in and attempt to catch up with the Tate Modern’s offer. As members we can visit any exhibition as many times as we need to and this is brilliant because the pressure of “wanting to make the right decision when buying tickets” disappears. If no other, that would be my reason to encourage any exhibition goer to join the Tate project.
Gallagher’s work was not known to me, how ever, its spirit and the craftsmanship behind each piece was something that I very quickly tuned in to. It was very witty: playful yet political. Innocent yet serious, and I loved it. There were many highlights:
The questioning of the message behind advertisement beauty campaigns, stereotypes, race, urban cultures and history are all covered in her work. In a playful yet clear delivery. The underwater fantasies of a black Atlantis, by the entrance, are both enchanting and hard to take in as they are a reminder of the horrors of human trading.
Her wonderfully crafted Deluxe series are amazingly displayed and share much more than the final image with the visitor. They are intimate, insightful and inspiring, and their display (which shows both sides of the works) is something I have never seen before.
Finally, the subtle, often nearly invisible Watery Ecstatic series where one cannot comprehend how a piece of paper can be commanded to work in many wonderful ways. I have thought about how best to describe these and all I came up with (you may be glad that I am not a writer) is “flat” sculpting.
If you have a chance to visit do. If you don’t, Ellen’s work is worth looking into, so do Google her.
See on www.guardian.co.uk