Glenn Ligon - AMERICAN AFRICAN AMERICAN New York Friday, February 8, 2019 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Private Collection, New York (acquired directly from the artist)
    Luhring Augustine, New York
    Private Collection, Colorado
    Private Collection, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    Born 1960, New York, NY
    Lives and works in New York

    1985 Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, New York, NY
    1982 BA Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT

    Selected honors: International Association of Art Critics Award (2012); Studio Museum's Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize, New York, NY (2009); John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, New York, NY (2003); Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant (1997); National Endowment for the Arts, Visual Artist Fellowship, Painting (1991); National Endowment for the Arts, Visual Artist Fellowship, Drawing (1989)
    Selected museum exhibitions and performances: Baltimore Museum of Art, MD; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, TX; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH
    Selected public collections: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, NY; Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; The Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; Tate Modern, London; Walker Art Center, MO; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY

    Glenn Ligon, who gained prominence in the early 1990s along with a generation of artists including Gary Simmons and Lorna Simpson, is a conceptual artist who throughout his career has pursued an incisive exploration of American history, literature, and society. Together with Thelma Golden, Ligon coined the term “post-blackness”, describing it in the catalogue for the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Freestyle landmark exhibition in 2001 as, “the liberating value in tossing off the immense burden of race-wide representation, the idea that everything they do must speak to or for or about the entire race.”

    While Ligon’s body of work spans neon, photography, sculptures, print, installation, and video, he is most widely associated with his text-based paintings that draw on the writings and speech of diverse figures such as Jean Genet, Zora Neale Hurston, Gertrude Stein, and Walt Whitman. Untitled (I am an Invisible Man...), is a work from 1991, a seminal year for Ligon’s practice and a moment that solidified his use of typewriter text and literary references. This particular work features a redacted presentation of the beginning of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from 1952, which read: “I am an invisible man…I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

    Teetering between text and image, the work powerfully achieves Ligon’s conceptual project of taking the premise of Ellison’s text into new conceptual pastures. As Ligon noted, “I’m interested in what happens when a text is difficult to read or frustrates legibility—what that says about our ability to think about each other, know each other, process each other”. In denying the viewer full semantic access to the text, Ligon essentially exposes the inability to look beyond surface appearance and performs the realities of racial (in)visibility. While the choice of black oilstick visualizes “blackness”, Ligon’s use of coal both obscures the text and imbues the work with a host of ambivalent undertones: “I am drawn to black because of all of the contradictory readings it engenders. Worthless. Waste. Black. Beautiful. Shiny. Reflective.”


Untitled (I am an Invisible Man...)

oil stick on paper
30 x 16 in. (76.2 x 40.6 cm.)
Executed in 1991.

Estimate On Request


New York Selling Exhibition 10 January - 8 February 2019