Visual Arts Picks

ELLEN GALLAGHER

Abstract painting has long been lauded (and criticized) for ridding itself of any hint of social or political content. But in the Henry's exhibit of this NYC artist, what appear on the surface to be elegant abstractions turn out to be loaded with angry messages on race and gender. Gallagher's career has been nothing short of meteoric ever since she scored a prominent place in the Whitney Biennial just one year after her first gallery show in 1994. At 36, she's already the subject of this semi-retrospective, "Ellen Gallagher: Preserve/Murmur," in which you'll find explosive visual symbols: bulbous lips, bulging eyes, and frizzy wigs. Integral to other paintings are old magazine ads bearing vaguely stereotypical images of black culture, over which Gallagher then paints eyes and hair in a dehumanizing but playful act of graffiti (see above). Throughout her work, there's a strange sort of ambiguity somewhere between humor and rage. It's a fascinating strategy, one that seems oddly apropos to this city where race is always approached in a polite, passive-aggressive sort of way. Gallagher shows how deep conflicts seethe even behind our pretty, peaceful façade. Artist Lecture and Reception: 7 p.m. Thurs. Jan. 15. Henry Art Gallery, UW campus, $4-$6, 206-543-2280. Exhibit runs through May 9. ANDREW ENGELSON

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