Besides being a posthumous tribute to Kilgallen, this first big retrospective in the Netherlands and Europe also makes the case for giving this exceptional artist the place in the canon she deserves. Kilgallen was well on track to becoming an artist of national and international renown when her life ended prematurely due to breast cancer in 2001, at the age of 33. Although this meant she never had a breakthrough in Europe, she was nevertheless pivotal in the art world of the West Coast. Her work and her significance are defined by her relationship with, and the inspiration she took from the then subcultures of surfers and graffiti artists, her love of craftsmanship and street art, and her links to folk art.

The exhibition was curated by Courtenay Finn for the Aspen Art Museum in 2019, following which it travelled on to moCa Cleveland. The Bonnefanten is proud to bring this major exhibition to the Netherlands and introduce Kilgallen to the general public.

that’s where the beauty is.

that’s where the beauty is. shows the incredible visual complexity of Kilgallen’s short career and spotlights the main themes of her multi-layered artistic practice. The public is guided through the space chronologically by showing Kilgallen’s exhibition history. The exhibition explores her roots in the long history of printing, American folk and folklore, and feminist representation strategies. There are two sides to her oeuvre. On the one hand, she did many drawings on paper (often flyleaves from books), wood and other inexpensive found materials. These works are often quite small. On the other hand, there are the street art works that she created in the public space, including parking garages, shop fronts and trains. The transience of the materials she used and the changeability of the public space make her oeuvre vulnerable.

There are nostalgic and folkloric sides to Kilgallen’s aesthetics. Her work is strongly influenced by the typography of the old Wild West and the style of muralists from various Latin-American countries. She often took the images and people she saw around her as her subjects. She was driven by a strong sense of social engagement, as demonstrated by the many references to different sub-cultures and communities in San Francisco, such as the Latin-American culture, the LHBTIQ+ community, the Native American community and the street art and surfer sub-cultures. Kilgallen always approached these social topics on the basis of her own experience of the world around her, as seen in the documentary Place, from Art21, the film shown in this exhibition.

One special artwork in the exhibition is the immense installation Main Drag, which consists of several surviving panel paintings and reconstructed wall paintings.

Margaret Kilgallen

Kilgallen was born in Washington D.C. in 1967, and grew up in the small town of Kensington in Maryland. She followed her interest in art and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in graphic techniques from Colorado College, in 1989. She then moved to San Francisco, where she developed a weakness for the city’s hand-painted signs, colourful wall paintings and hand-made advertisements. She worked as a book restorer at the San Francisco public library, studied typography and adopted the techniques of graphic art, exploring woodcuts, book printing and traditional sign-painting techniques, which would all play a central role in her artistic practice.

The landscape of California and the city of San Francisco were inspiring surroundings for Kilgallen. She lived in Mission, a Latin-American neighbourhood with a rich past of public art and creative expression, and immersed herself in the artistic community that became known as the Mission School. She worked there with artists who shared her love of hand-made products, including her husband Barry McGee, Chris Johanson, Alicia McCarthy and Ruby Neri. Kilgallen worked both indoors and outdoors, and wanted to make her work accessible to a wider public. She created installations on the spot for exhibitions, as well as outdoors in the public space. She made wall paintings and T-shirts, designed record sleeves and created her own zines and artist’s books, based on her conviction that all forms of expression and distribution were equally important. Kilgallen thought it was wonderful to see the mark of the human hand in the world, so she avoided the use of computers and projectors in creating her work. She joined in the tradition of chalking her name or tag on trains and freight cars, in order to put her own mark on the world.

Her work was part of various group exhibitions in the Art Institute San Francisco (1995), Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts in San Francisco (1997&1998), The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (1999) and the Los Angeles County Museum (2000). In 1999, she held her first big solo exhibition in Deitch Projects, in New York City. In 2000, she had her first solo museum exhibition in the Hammer Museum, in Los Angeles. Her work was posthumously included in the Whitney Biennial of 2002. In presenting that’s where the beauty is., the Bonnefanten is bringing a major exhibition by an unrecognised yet influential artist to the Netherlands, thereby fulfilling its role as a museum that points out connections.


The exhibition is accompanied by the English-language catalogue of the same name, Margaret Kilgallen: that’s where the beauty is., published by the Aspen Art Museum in collaboration with the Bonnefanten. The catalogue is available from our museum shop and online for €32.50.


Headerphoto: Installation view, Margaret Kilgallen, that’s where the beauty is., Aspen Art Museum, 2018. Photo: Tony Prikryl