The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland presents that’s where the beauty is., the first posthumous museum exhibition of Margaret Kilgallen

January 15, 2020

Cleveland, OHIO (January 15, 2020)—The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland presents American artist Margaret Kilgallen (1967–2001) in her first posthumous museum survey that’s where the beauty is. from January 31–May 17, 2020.

Kilgallen’s visually explosive work evokes the vitality of American street and folk life with influences such as the American craft art movement, mid-twentieth century street signage, and typography dating back to the 1400s. A seminal figure in the Bay Area Mission School, Kilgallen died at thirty-three just as she was gaining recognition.

that’s where the beauty is. includes an array of Kilgallen’s groundbreaking works, from those realized on the backs of skateboards to gallery-sized graphics featuring fonts that recall a carnival midway or western frontier town. Folk-style renderings feature offbeat heroines. “I like to paint images of women who I find inspiring, and I don’t like to choose people that everybody knows,” said Kilgallen in 2000 to Art21 for PBS, noting 1912 Olympic swimmer Fanny Durack, and folk musicians Matokie Slaughter and Algia Mae Hinton. “I like to choose people that just do small things, and yet somehow hit me in my heart.” Her resulting depictions whisper feminism, however unmistakably.

“I especially hope to inspire young women because I often feel like so much emphasis is put on how beautiful you are and how thin you are,” said Kilgallen, “and not a lot of emphasis is put on what you can do and how smart you are.

“I’d like to change the emphasis of what’s important when looking at a woman.”

The show includes a large-scale painting on panel which features one of Kilgallen’s iconic women taking up fisticuffs. Originally presented as part of her 1999 solo exhibition To Friend and Foe at Deitch Projects, New York, it has not been displayed since. Working both inside and outside, Kilgallen believed in making her work accessible to larger audiences. She would create site-specific pieces for exhibitions, but also outside in public space—in parking garages, directly on train cars, and for friends and colleagues. She used the bottoms of skateboards, made T-shirts, drew record albums, and created her own zines and artist books, believing that all modes of expression and dissemination were equally important. An array of never-before-seen ephemera is included in the show ranging from documentation of her train tags, t-shirts, figurines, sketchbooks, and stickers.

“On any day in the Mission in San Francisco,” said Kilgallen of her affinity of the handmade, “you can see a handpainted sign that is kind of funky. And maybe that person, if they had money, would prefer to have had a neon sign. But I don’t prefer that. I think it’s beautiful, what they did and that they did it themselves.” The sentiment extends to her own hand-drawn lines. “From a distance, it might look straight, but when you get close up, you can always see the line waiver. And I think that’s where the beauty is.” Taking its title directly from Kilgallen, the exhibition and accompanying publication, that’s where the beauty is., reintroduces audiences to the lasting power of her ideas and images, ensuring that new generations continue to have the opportunity to engage and learn from Kilgallen’s work.

“There’s a generosity in the work,” says moCa’s Chief Curator Courtenay Finn, “and an embrace of storytelling that finds its own voice in her her ability to collapse and collage the rich histories of printmaking and folk art. It is a celebration of craft that seems especially poignant now.”

Finn continues, “I find her work to be timely,” she says, noting Kilgallen’s most prolific creative period coincided with the rise of the tech sector and gentrification in San Francisco. “In politically fraught times, we often get intense political work that makes a declarative statement, work that announces itself front and center. And yet at the same time, I think at these moments we also see artists returning to the handmade, as if to show that the human condition exists.”

Presented in the Mueller Family Gallery, Cohen Family Gallery, and Cahoon Lounge, that’s where the beauty is. includes works from the artist’s estate as well as from works in the collections of the Hammer Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The show recalls installations from Kilgallen’s first solo show at The Drawing Center (1997) and first museum exhibition, Hammer Projects: Margaret Kilgallen (2001), as well as her final installation Main Drag (2001) for the East Meets West: “Folk” and Fantasy from the Coasts exhibition at the Institute for Contemporary Art Philadelphia.

that’s where the beauty is. was originally organized by Finn for the Aspen Art Museum (AAM) in 2019. A fully illustrated catalogue, published and produced by the Aspen Art Press, is available for purchase in the moCa store.

Margaret Kilgallen (b. 1967, Washington, DC; d. 2001, San Francisco) studied at Stanford University, CA, and Colorado College, Colorado Springs. Exhibitions have taken place at: REDCAT, Los Angeles (2005); Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (both 2004); Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, San Jose Museum of Art, CA (both 2002); Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, DESTE Foundation Centre for Contemporary Art, Athens (both 2001); and Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art (both 2000). The lead sponsor for that’s where the beauty is. is national craft and fabric retailer JOANN. Our third floor JOANN + moCa Maker Space will honor Kilgallen’s practice with activities that complement the exhibition throughout the season.


About moCa Cleveland

For fifty years, the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (moCa) has played a vital role in the city’s cultural landscape. A kunsthalle in the Midwest, moCa is a conduit and catalyst for creativity and inspiration, offering exhibitions and programs that provide public value and make meaning of the art and ideas of our time.

Since its founding in 1968, moCa has presented the works of more than three thousand artists, often through artists’ first solo shows. moCa was the first in the region to exhibit the works of many vanguard artists, including Laurie Anderson, Christo, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol. Recent artist commissions and solo exhibitions include work by Sondra Perry, Aleksandra Domanović, Tauba Auerbach, Simon Denny, Adam Pendleton, Lisa Oppenheim, Sara VanDerBeek, and Michelle Grabner.

In 2012, moCa relocated to Cleveland’s University Circle district, which boasts one of the country’s highest concentrations of cultural, educational, and medical institutions. Designed by London-based architect Farshid Moussavi, moCa’s new permanent home—a faceted building of mirror finish black stainless steel—is now an iconic landmark of the city. Jill Snyder has been moCa’s Executive Director since 1996.

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Margaret Kilgallen’s that’s where the beauty is. was organized by moCa’s Chief Curator Courtenay Finn for the Aspen Art Museum.

Lead sponsorship of Margaret Kilgallen’s that’s where the beauty is. provided by JOANN. Major support for the exhibition provided by an anonymous donor. Additional support also provided by our WAVE MAKERS.

All current moCa Cleveland exhibitions are funded by Leadership Circle gifts from anonymous donors, Yuval Brisker, Joanne Cohen & Morris Wheeler, Margaret Cohen & Kevin Rahilly, Becky Dunn, Harriet Goldberg, Agnes Gund, Richard & Michelle Jeschelnig, Kohl Family, Jan Lewis, Toby Devan Lewis, Roy Minoff, and Kelly & Scott Mueller.

All moCa Cleveland exhibitions are supported in part by the residents of Cuyahoga County through a grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, the George Gund Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council, and the continuing support of the museums’ Boards of Directors, patrons, and members.


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