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Glenn Ligon: Some Changes

Glenn Ligon

Any migration implies a sharing as well as a confrontation, an adaptation as well as a resistance. The work of the American artist Glenn Ligon is exploring concepts like the construction of an individual identity, as well as being a part of something bigger - socially, politically or sexually -, in a country emerged out of immigration. His research, as this first monographic exhibition of the artist in Europe shows, focuses on difference and personality, but always within "the family of men". The language, being the foundation and the consolidation of any community and its exchanges, takes a leading part in this protean work, relevantly echoed by a mixed society like Luxembourg.

Curated by Wayne Baerwaldt and Thelma Golden.
The exhibition Glenn Ligon: Some Changes is organized by The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery at Harbourfront Centre, Toronto. With the generous support of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, Peter Norton Family Foundation, the Albert & Temmy Latner Family Foundation, Toby Devan Lewis and Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Mudam Luxembourg. Additional support is provided by Hal Jackman Foundation, Judy Schulich, The Broad Art Foundation, Gregory R. Miller, The Drake Hotel, The Linda Pace Foundation and Dr. Kenneth Montague.

«Glenn Ligon is part of a generation of artists who came to prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s with paintings and photo-text work that investigate the aesthetic, social, linguistic and political constructions of race, gender and sexuality. His practice engages various artistic forms, including painting, printmaking, sculpture, installation and video, each form chosen to best address complex subjects that defy ordinary categories. Incorporating sources as diverse as James Baldwin’s literary texts, found or appropriated images, and Richard Pryor’s 1970s stand-up comedy routines, Ligon’s work is a sustained meditation on issues of quotation, the pervasiveness of the past, and the representation of self in relation to culture and history. Glenn Ligon: Some Changes surveys his oeuvre over the last seventeen years and explores the idea of “revision,” highlighting Ligon’s practice of modifying subjects and themes from his earlier works to produce new works in different media.
In the early stages of research, it became evident to the co-curators of the exhibition that the process of painting is itself an essential focus of Ligon’s extended meditation on issues central to his investigation. Over the course of nearly two decades Ligon has developed a significant series of elegant oil and mixed-media works whose essential characteristics and subject matter remain resolutely abstract, a series of subjective expressions as freely improvised compositions. Painting is the compass for Ligon’s trade in the ideas behind the issues, especially those informed by modernist aesthetics and the inconsistencies of comprehending society, and mass media’s take on the black body politic. These are transferred repeatedly and poignantly between works produced in different media, but invariably find themselves reconstituted and transformed again in Ligon’s painting. Clearly, the development of ideas around artmaking is central to his aspirations as an artist, both as the conceptual underpinning for his art and as a critique of the society in which we live. Painting is but one of his self-declared “touchstones,” and the choice of medium for his ideas is based entirely on his ability to extract longevity and resonance from his subjects and materials.
Glenn Ligon: Some Changes provides a rare opportunity to view nearly fifty significant works including Untitled (I Am a Man) (1988); Runaways (1993); the Richard Pryor paintings (1993-2004); the award-winning web-based project, Annotations (2003); and the installation The Orange and Blue Feelings (2003). The exhibition also includes a new series of drawings and a recently commissioned film project entitled The Shadow. All of the works are important parts of Ligon’s oeuvre, but some of his best-known paintings permit speculation on the relative importance of painting visà-vis his pieces in other media.
Each painting is intensely complicated, in form, materials and subject matter, and collectively, as part of an ongoing body of work. The process of revisioning enables the work and facilitates a dynamic meditation. It is a deliberately circuitous artmaking process whose forms and subject matter double back on themselves, re-informed and re-energized by the artist’s continuing investigations. It is also a self-reflective artmaking that engages a variety of forms, including moving images, installations, found photographs, large-scale photo transfers and other media and techniques illustrated throughout the exhibition catalogue. Rather than diverting attention away from Ligon’s central concerns, each foray into another medium triggers a reaction in his painting, providing unsettling reminders that modernist painting can remain open-ended and receptive to new information without abandoning its dual ideals of universality and timelessness.»

Wayne Baerwaldt.