Saturday, June 02, 2012

Glenn Ligon

Glenn Ligon (1960) Mirror, 2002. Coal dust, printing ink, glue, gesso, and graphite on canvas,
82 5/8 x 55 1/8 in. Collection of Mellody Hobson –copyright- Glenn Ligon

A repost of my article at for a show in May 2012.

If you want the complex feelings of being uncomfortable, in awe, and a little surprised, then Glenn Ligon's show "America" is a must see show. The Modern in Fort Worth says this show is the first comprehensive retrospective of his work.

Glenn Ligon plots out his identity through his own eyes and from the view point of others. His sexuality and ethnic identity are laid bare in text. What I find interesting is that the words of his statements are repeated and then decay into an unreadable mess of paint and sometimes coal dust. I am reminded of Jasper Johns’ stencil paintings where the numbers and letters overlap and lose some legibility. Ligon’s paintings will make some statements that will make you squirm, like his racial “joke” series. These works were more colorful and attracted me to read them, but then I felt bad for reading them.

Whereas his more conversational pieces where easier to read, because they sound like advice from family or friends that might not necessarily be helpful to Ligon. Identity is important to Ligon, but I was inspired because he used his words in such an effective and straight forward way. Beyond the hard hitting words is a minimalist aesthetics that gives a pleasure not found in pure geometric pieces; a pleasure less about reading and more about the shape and form of the works. When Ligon keeps repeating the sentences into overworked areas, you find yourself unable to read, therefore you can appreciate the letters as shapes and curves. Most of the show was text based work except one area that had photos and another that had large paintings with blown up versions of coloring books. The pictures where clustered together depicting a lot of skin. I was reminded a little of Robert Mapplethorpe, but many of Ligon’s images seem to be of himself. At first I didn’t quite get the large Warholesque coloring book pages, but then I slowly realized that this too was about identity in early childhood.

Because of Glenn Ligon’s use of words, he has been a favorite of mine for years. So much so, that I actually bought a catalog of his work. And on my limited budget, that is saying a lot. The Modern of Forth Worth will have Glenn Ligon: America up until June 3rd. for more images.

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