Glenn Ligon - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 15, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Baldwin Gallery, Aspen

  • Catalogue Essay

    “At some point I realized that the text was the painting and that everything else was extraneous. The painting became the act of writing a text on a canvas, but in all my work, text turns into abstraction.”
    GLENN LIGON, 2009

    In 1985, Bronx-born Glenn Ligon attended the Whitney museum’s independent study program, focusing heavily on the use of text within art and setting in motion a career
    largely defined by this initial intrigue. In 2011, Ligon would return to the Whitney for his first comprehensive mid-career retrospective which was also shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

    Though he has always worked across a vast range of media, Ligon is best known for his text-based paintings. The current lot epitomizes the artist’s ability to transform
    text into abstraction. The heavy black oilstick covers text from James Baldwin’s 1955 essay, Stranger in the Village, which describes the perspective of a man who moves to a small Swiss village where no one had ever seen a black man before. Though the viewer can make out the shapes of some letters and even a few words, it is nearly impossible to read the text in its entirety. The viewer’s inability to see beyond the muddled surface of the work prevents the viewer from processing the text. In this way Ligon has placed the viewer in the position of the Swiss villagers: trying to understand, but finding it impossible to look past the outermost appearance of the other. The ostracization of the viewer—enticing them to develop a deeper understanding of the work despite implementing obstacles that prevent that aim from being fully realized–
    anticipates the helplessness expressed by Bladwin’s essay, and contained within the painting: “[James] Joyce is right about history being a nightmare-but it may be the
    nightmare from which no one can awaken. People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.”

  • Artist Biography

    Glenn Ligon

    American • 1960

    Glenn Ligon gained prominence in the early 1990s as a pioneering artist whose incisive work exploring of the contemporary American experience utilized the methods and legacies of modern painting and conceptual art. Embracing an intertextual approach, Ligon incorporates works from the arts, literature, history, and his own life to investigate American society and its inequities. Though he began his career as an abstract painter, he began incorporating text into his work in the mid-1980s to better articulate his political concerns and his ideas about racial identity and experience. He samples writing from famed Black writers including James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, and Ralph Ellison, among other authors. 

    Ligon’s body of work includes painting, photography, sculpture, installation, video, and neon art, but he is most widely associated with his text-based paintings. He is also notable for conceptualizing the term “Post-Blackness,” with Thelma Golden, describing it as “the liberating value in tossing off the immense burden of race-wide representation, the idea that everything they do must speak too for or about the entire race.” His work is held in notable museum collections around the world.

    View More Works


Stranger Drawing #7

coal dust, oil, pencil on paper mounted on aluminum
60 x 40 in. (152.4 x 101.6 cm.)
Signed, titled and dated "Glenn Ligon 2004 Stranger Drawing #7" on the reverse.

$300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for $509,000

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Sale
[email protected]
+1 212 940 1256

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York 16 May 2013 7pm