Artist Margaret Kilgallen lives again in new exhibition at the Aspen Art Museum
IF YOU GO …
What: Margaret Kilgallen, ‘that’s where the beauty is.’
Where: Aspen Art Museum
When: Saturday, Jan. 12 through June 16
How much: Free
More info: aspenartmuseum.org
The artist Margaret Kilgallen died young in 2001. She left the art world to wonder what could have been. But she also left behind a body of multifaceted work that will live on.
The Aspen Art Museum is keeping that legacy alive by staging Kilgallen’s first posthumous museum exhibition and the largest exhibition of her work in more than a decade.
Diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant, she denied chemotherapy in order to deliver her baby. She died, at 33, three weeks after giving birth.
Aspen Art Museum director Heidi Zuckerman was a friend of Kilgallen’s in San Francisco as the artist’s career was blossoming along with the Bay Area Mission School movement of the 1990s. The loose collective of artists also included Kilgallen’s husband, Barry McGee.
“I thought she was the most talented of all the artists of that period,” Zuckerman said. “I feel like she had a very independent iconography.”
A Colorado College graduate, Kilgallen’s innovative and earthy work — including printmaking, painting and graffiti — draws inspiration from folk art and the natural world, feminism and folklore. Her works are bespoke and hand-made, created without mechanical technology. As Kilgallen once put it: “My hand will always be imperfect because I’m human. And I think it’s the part that’s off that’s interesting.”
She was not, for instance, interested in drawing a perfectly straight line. She was interested in trying to, by hand, but found something profound in the idea that her lines would never be perfect.
“From a distance it might look straight,” she once said, “but when you get close up, you can always see the line waver. And I thing that’s where the beauty is.”
The Aspen exhibition takes its title from that quote: “that’s where the beauty is.”
Following her untimely death, Kilgallen’s work was the subject of a 2005 survey at REDCAT in Los Angeles and also toured from 2004 to 2006 in the major group show “Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture.”
In the first major career-spanning exhibition of her work since then, the Aspen Art Museum will use Kilgallen’s exhibition history to guide viewers through a comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s groundbreaking work.
Last December, Zuckerman met up with Kilgallen’s widower. The museum director had been pregnant with her son in San Francisco at the same time that Kilgallen was pregnant with her daughter. The pair of children met for the first time last year, and Zuckerman was inspired to bring this monumental collection of Kilgallen’s work to the museum.
“It was a reminder of Margaret and how important her work is,” Zuckerman explained. “I think we have a responsibility to keep people’s memories alive through their work. And it felt like the timing was right.”