Glenn Ligon, American (1960 - )

Glenn Ligon is known for his resonant works in multiple media that explore issues surrounding race, sexuality, identity, representation and language. For his first web-based project, Annotations, Ligon revisits the family photo album, a format rich in its potential for investigating the diverse sources that shape individual identity, in the artist's words: "a site of invention, cheering fictions, hidden histories and unforeseen juxtapositions."

In considering this medium for his project, Ligon was inspired by a notion of the web as a vast, anarchic library of material, where family histories are researched and documented in places as diverse as personal homepages and genealogical sites. He is interested in the web as a repository where public and private collide in myriad ways, where even intimate photographs may be posted for a few to visit, yet are ultimately accessible to millions, remaining in archives long after removal from their original location.

Ligon's works frequently employ appropriation or quotation, notably his lush coal-dust paintings of excerpts from James Baldwin's Stranger in the Village, or his recent project at the Walker Art Center, where he gave school children vintage coloring books depicting icons of African-American history, then used their drawings as the basis for a series of paintings. Ligon deems discarded materials and forgotten histories fertile source material for critical artistic practice.

Ligon previously worked with the convention of the photo album in Feast of Scraps, 1994-1998. This work juxtaposed family photographs with vintage gay porn, humorously underscoring how selective and limited are the images that constitute a family's official history while probing silences around issues of gay sexuality. He captioned the pornographic photos with text snippets ("Brother," "Mother Knew" or "It's a Process") which served simultaneously to illuminate and obfuscate the interpretation of the images.

In Annotations each image in the twenty-page album leads to a second or third layer -- a simple caption, other photographs, images of book covers, lists, narratives, a hand-written letter, and in a few instances, multiple page spreads -- plus, (towards the end of the album), audio clips of music, including the artist singing a capella or with songs from the 70s and 80s. The potential for adding layers of materials behind a single image allowed Ligon to present his material in a manner parallel to the way memory works: when viewing a photo album that one knows, each photo invariably prods recollections or associations. In this instance, where the album is unfamiliar to the viewer, Ligon provides hints and suggestions to multiply the layers of possible interpretation.

Beyond the singular feel of many of the images in Annotations, African-American history and race are ubiquitous subtexts that run throughout, from the interspersed photos of book covers such as "Harlem is Burning" or "Black Like Me" to the charged captions "Came North" for a family standing around a car or "Future President of the United States" in front of an African-American baby. Another caption which appears repeatedly throughout the project references the 1955 exhibition and publication The Family of Man, one of the most well-known and successful attempts to postulate a universality inherent in the human condition. "We two form a multitude," the well-known Ovidian quotation, appears beneath photographs of couples from many continents and races, all heterosexual. Ligon wryly acknowledges this gap in universality with his placement of this caption throughout the album.

The fact that the majority of the people in Annotations are African-American makes race a palpable factor in the reading of each image. Yet there is a feeling of recognition, even if none of the faces is known to the viewer, a familiarity that arises from our intimacy with the conventions of a family album -- the proud portraits, new babies, special occasions, banal moments when a camera was in hand, the poorly centered or focused images that make their way past the editing process for whatever reasons.

Sara Tucker

In the foreground of a generation of artists of the end of the years 80 and beginning of the years 90, Glenn Ligon has his fame to paints and to conceptual phototextes that explore the problematic aesthetic one, social, linguistic and politics of the race, sex and sexuality. The practice of Ligon, that draws to sources as varied as of the literary texts of James Baldwin and sketches of the comical Richard Pryor, understands the paint, the engraving, the sculpture, the installation and the video. The traveling exposition Glenn Ligon: Some Change track the evolution of his artistic gait during the seventeen last years and explores the notion of "revision" that, with Ligon, translates itself by a modification and a layering of subjects and previous themes resulting in a corpus of unpublished works. The work of Ligon is a sustained meditation on the quotation, the ubiquitousness of the passed and the representation of oneself in comparison with the culture and to the history. The paint is for Ligon a privileged tool in the matter of the commerce of the ideas, notably the one influenced by the aesthetic modernist and by the inherent incoherences to the comprehension of the perception that have the corporation and the media of politics of the black body. The historic fragments that the artist appropriates are the object of itself repeated and poignant transfers enters different mediums, but meet again invariably restored and retransformés in his paint. There is no doubt that the elaboration of a reflection on the artistic creation is at the heart of the gait of Ligon, at once as sat conceptual of his art and as criticizes corporation in which let us live us. The paint is only the an of its "key rocks" proved. With Ligon, the choice of a medium rests completely on his capacity to extract the resonance of its subjects and of its materials. Glenn Ligon: Some Change offers a rare occasion to appreciate an important corpus of works dating back to 1988 to our days, including Untitled (I'S Am HAS Man), Runaways (Fugitives, 1993), the series of pictures of Richard Pryor (1993-2004), Annotations (2003), a project Internet first, and the installation The Orange and Blue Feelings (the orange and blue impressions, 2003). The exposition understands equally a new series of drawings coming from the playful appropriation of albums to color african-americans of the years 1960. If all the works play an important role in the work of Ligon, certain of its pictures the more known allow wondering on the importance of the paint in comparison with its realizations in of other mediums. Each of the pictures is extremely complex, by the form, the materials and the subject, and collectively, in so as composing from a work in course. The process "révisionnel" of Ligon enriches the work and favors a dynamic meditation. It is a matter of a creation process deliberately twisting of which form them and the subjects withdraw themselves on themselves, réactualisés and revitalized. This is equally a process autoréférentiel that puts to contribution all a range of forms – pictures in movement, installations, photos found, big photographic continuations formats and other mediums and technical. Every incursion in another medium releases a reaction in the paint of Ligon – reminder disrupting that the modernistic paint can remain opened and receptive to new information without renouncing his ideal double of universality and of intemporalité.

Wayne Baerwaldt.


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