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Margaret Kilgallen: Art on the edge

August 9, 2009

Margaret Kilgallen: Art on the edge

At 33, she was acclaimed, prolific, pregnant… and dying from cancer. Kira Cochrane looks back on a brief but dazzling career


Part of Margaret Kilgallen’s To Friend + Foe installation, Deitch Projects, New York, 1999. Photograph: Courtesy Deitch Projects

In the last months of her life, in 2001, the artist Margaret Kilgallen could be found atop a scissor lift, creating one of her trademark installations for a show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia – a towering, hand-painted streetscape, punctuated with carnival letters and cartoonish figures. She was heavily pregnant. She was also reaching the late stages of breast cancer. “Her determination was amazing,” says David Hannah, a professor of art at Stanford University, where she was finishing her master’s degree. “I think she knew what was coming, but she was determined to see the pregnancy through, to give birth, and to create this really daunting installation. She had such physical courage. It was incredible.”

At 33, Kilgallen was already a widely acclaimed and exhibited artist; speaking to her friends, the image emerges of a woman in perpetual motion, a blur of productivity. “One time I helped her with an installation,” says Amy Franceschini, an artist and close friend, “and I was really nervous to make the line perfect. She just said, ‘Pretend you’re playing tennis – swing and follow through.’ She would approach the wall with complete confidence, with a humility and a fierceness, but never fear.”

Read more at:  Art on the edge

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