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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)


Photo: Paul Macapia



Ellen Gallagher

American, born 1965

A quick look at Ellen Gallagher's paintings can be misleading: grids of small circles on lined paper in beige and white create the appearance of an exercise in minimalism. Step closer to examine those small circles, however, and hundreds of gleaming eyes and occasional rows of mouths are staring at the viewer. Ellen Gallagher, who has African-American and Irish parents, has loaded the calm surface with reminders of the derogatory huge rolling eyes and exaggerated thick lips seen on white actors performing in blackface as part of nineteenth-century American minstrel shows. The artist uses pages from children's composition books, suggesting the fine line between innocent doodling and harmful caricatures.

Oil and graphite on paper mounted to canvas
69 1/8 x 49 7/8 in. (175.58 x 126.68 cm)
Gift of Richard and Elizabeth Hedreen and the Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistoryNew York, New York, American Academy of Arts and Letters, Invitational Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, Feb. 17 - June 11, 2000.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Dis-Figured, May 31, 2001 - Mar. 17, 2002.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Africa in America, Dec. 18, 2004 - Jan. 1, 2006.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Black Art, Mar. 25 - Nov. 9, 2008.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Elles: SAM - Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists, Oct. 6, 2012 - Feb. 17, 2013.

New York, New York, New Museum, Ellen Gallagher: Don't Axe Me, June 19 - Sept. 15, 2013. Insert (color).

Published ReferencesPerreault, John. "Glorious Summer: Imran Qureshi, Pat Steir, Ellen Gallagher," on Artopia,, August 13, 2013, illus.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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