How to Make It In “AMERICA”

05.24.2011

ART & DESIGN

Glenn Ligon transforms the language of literature and icons into a poignant visual experience that is a furtive examination of social history. His mid-career survey “AMERICA,” at the Whitney Museum of Art, is testament to the conceptual territory he navigates, comprised of Black American identity, racial politics and themes from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Over 100 of his paintings, screen prints and sculptures are on display, comprised of neon lights, wood, charcoal and oil paint.

“The process starts with a phrase or a word that sticks in my head for a long enough time that I try to make a piece of work out of it,” he says. “The form is very important. It takes a long time to figure out what that form is.” In one more recent piece from 2007, “Gold Nobody Knew Me #1,” he invokes Richard Pryor with black stencil letters resting over a hazy gold backdrop. “I went to Africa. I went to the Motherland to find my roots! Right? Seven hundred million black people! Not one of those motherfuckers knew me.”

“I think the artist’s job is not as a reporter. I think art is about big idea,” says Ligon. “We’ve always had poverty. We’ve always looked at larger social structures. We point out moments of repetition. I’ve been reading a lot of Walt Whitman. The things he was writing about are still relevant. There are certain constants in society we need to look at.”

His earlier works date back to the late 1980s. “When I first started, I was very interested in bringing text and historical moments back in the present. I was very interested in Zora Neale Hurston from the Harlem Renaissance and I was thinking of slavery as a subject matter. The beginning of that career, it was about mining the archive of American history and literature and bringing it to the present,” he said. “Now it’s a much more abstract and a personalized view of the world, like obscure corners of a novel that I’m interested in. It’s more focused on language itself.”

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001308516221 Christian Rose

    love/.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001308516221 Christian Rose

    love/.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_D4JDU4ASDCPXTIYGYBQRBVGKSY Kelly

    My mom would use Royal Crown hairdressing in my hair when I was growing up. It is still on the market? She would press my hair with this huge hot pressing comb she would heat up on the stove or a hotplate. Times have changed. Anyway I had to post this comment once I saw the royal crown hairgrease pic.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_D4JDU4ASDCPXTIYGYBQRBVGKSY Kelly

    My mom would use Royal Crown hairdressing in my hair when I was growing up. It is still on the market? She would press my hair with this huge hot pressing comb she would heat up on the stove or a hotplate. Times have changed. Anyway I had to post this comment once I saw the royal crown hairgrease pic.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_D4JDU4ASDCPXTIYGYBQRBVGKSY Kelly

    How to make it in America? A good education is the key. On June 10, 2011, I’m walking across stage to take my Masters degree. Watch out world, I’m coming like a tornado. Jay you and Bey have inspired me to be the best that I can. My dad is gone now due to cancer, but he told me to only follow the bright lights in the world, and I followed you guys. Hope you didn’t mind. God bless you!

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