Pleasures and pain on paper
"eXcellento" is a work that rewards long looks. And lucky for me: I've been looking at it for a long time.
From a distance the work as a whole is impressive, even overwhelming because of its size and density. The piece invites closer examination, with each rectangle in the grid is individually executed and conceived. They each easily stands alone as an artwork.
Being in front of it is to see something new, every time. The formal aspects are incredibly satisfying in themselves and also shock me a bit—the amount of work the piece required before it became a whole impresses. Scanned advertisements are collaged, their context and original size often obscured, and then transferred onto a massive canvas. Plasticine wigs and other elements compliment each one. Finally resin was poured over the work, leaving the yellow exposed, fragile to the elements.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about how "eXcellento" transcends the theme of questioning standards for beauty for people of color (especially for women). Beyond the obvious references to changing and one's physical appearance, language comes into play.
A piece of the grid in the lower right corner asks "Do You Make These Mistakes in English?" And there is James Baldwin in a yellow wig. Not only do you not look right, you don't talk right either.
Ellen Gallagher spoke to a group of us at The Broad this year (where it is currently on view) and mentioned that some of the individual artworks of the grid are quiet funny. For example, one was influenced by her love of the film Flash Dance. That became a hide and seek game for me the next shift I had in its gallery. Super satisfying when I spotted it (upper left corner).