In Black and White

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2012-12-02 19:30Z by Steven

In Black and White

New York Magazine

Mark Stevens

“Ellen Gallagher: DeLuxe” confronts issues of race not with hectoring but with clever, even antic, satire.

In Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison explored not only overt expressions of racism but also its more hidden, corrosive elements. African-Americans suffered from metaphysical wounds. They were “invisible,” seen not for who they were as individuals but for what they represented as a group. Blackness was a kind of impenetrable mask. Appearance was all. Historically, many African-Americans have tried to escape from this prison. Some whitened their skin or straightened their hair. Others took up the white-skirt profession of nursing. Still others made a fetish of blackness by wearing enormous Afros. Usually, however, one mask was merely being exchanged for another. The poster boy for such psychic wounds is, of course, Michael Jackson.

In a captivating small show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Ellen Gallagher is now exhibiting a portfolio of 60 prints, called “DeLuxe,” that makes serious sport of this effort to fashion a new appearance that can pass inspection. Gallagher searched through black magazines such as Sepia and Our World, mostly from the years before the civil-rights era, looking for material on the theme. Often, she picked advertisements. Ads from old magazines are always fascinating—usually, things look simpler and more innocent, which is an appealing illusion. Here, the proffered promises are often poignant. A skin whitener is an elixir: You will be “Made for Kisses,” with “The Lighter, Smoother Skin Men Adore.” A presentation of wigs allows you to pick a ready-made identity, from “cutie” and “supreme freedom” to “semi-Afro” and “curly gypsy.”…

Read the entire article here.

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