A Deluxe Act

Gallagher connects the dots at MoMA


Museum exhibitions curated by artists are always an interesting journey into the artist’s brain. Sometimes we find out things we really didn’t want to know, like a hidden passion for paintings of big-eyed children or a love of the color beige. Sometimes, however, we get to peer deeply into the artist’s mind and actually connect the dots of how what interests them relates to their work.

Click to enlarge. Ellen Gallagher, DeLuxe, 2004–05.  © 2012 Ellen Gallagher and Two Palms Press..
Ellen Gallagher, DeLuxe, 2004–05. © 2012 Ellen Gallagher and Two Palms Press.

Printin’, a new show in the print galleries at MoMA, is such an exhibition. It is showing concurrently with the major but unwieldy exhibition Print/Out, and trust me, you can skip the big show in favor of this superbly well-chosen, flowing and evocative collection of work. In this case, smaller is better.

Printin’ is co-curated by Sarah Suzuki, an associate curator at the museum, and the artist Ellen Gallagher. The exhibition pivots around Gallagher’s seminal suite of prints entitled DeLuxe, 60 prints that combine just about every printing technique on earth along with collage, 3-D objects and hand-painting. It is a massive and stunning work and a benchmark in Gallagher’s artistic development.

Given some amount of free rein to wander through MoMA’s collections and make the visual and conceptual connections that most interested her, Gallagher has created a startlingly beautiful and profound exhibition.

The heart of the curators’ magic is an ability to exhibit links between disparate works, either visual, thematic or temperamental. The connections that the curators make are delightful, allowing the viewer the joy of seeing and understanding those visual connections.

For example, one wall of the show is hung with an unusually sensitive, large Keith Haring woodcut. Next to that is a painted Kachina made by an anonymous Hopi Indian, then the wall bounces up into a very unusual Paul Klee piece of pigmented paste on paper and cloth. Below that is a wonderful abstract print by Canadian artist Akesuk Tudlik.

The visual themes dance across this wall in a giddy flash of discovery. You get it. You are able to see what Gallagher sees and presumably loves in these pieces.

A 1921 photograph of the black vaudevillian Bert Williams dressed incongruously in both tuxedo and chicken suit hangs above a print by Otto Dix entitled “American Riding Act,” which depicts horse-borne men in elaborate feathered headdresses shooting at something beyond the picture plane. The connections are both funny and chilling.

As opposed to the conceptually dense and overly hip showcase exhibition Print/Out, Suzuki and Gallagher have mounted a show that is intellectually accessible, artistically illuminating and a sheer joy to visit.

Through May 14, The Museum of Modern Art, 11 W. 53rd St., 212-708-9400, www.moma.org.

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