Glenn Ligon - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Saturday, May 7, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Max Protetch, New York
    Private Collection, acquired from the above in 1997
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Philadelphia, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Glenn Ligon: Unbecoming, January 17 - March 8, 1998, p. 56

  • Catalogue Essay

    “But I also grew up around appropriation and text. Why write your own when there are texts in the world? Appropriating text is a way of getting certain ideas into the work directly.” Glenn Ligon

    In 1953, American novelist James Baldwin penned “Stranger in the Village” to articulate his experience as the first black man to visit a remote town in Switzerland. Over thirty years later, the work of artist Glenn Ligon expresses the experience of the contemporary African American in the American landscape. Stranger in the Village #11, executed in 1997, utilizes deep black coal dust and adhesive enamel to stencil a poignant selection from Baldwin’s text. Ligon’s choice of historical prose politicizes his work, and demands an examination of issues of race, legislature and authorship, to an enrapturing result. The opaque lettering and the dichromatic palette obfuscate the words, engaging us to question the surface of the canvas and the capability—or inability—of words to tell truths of racial identity.

    Stranger in the Village #11 is immediately illegible, heavy and all-encompassing, inaccessible to our contrast-driven vision. Allowing each word to deteriorate across the horizontal picture plane, Ligon points albeit subtlety to the fact that no matter what elegant string of words may be tied together, it remains utterly impossible to exhaustively describe the human experience. Ligon’s adept use of Appropriations, Conceptualism, and Minimalism enables him to subvert a straightforward categorization. Of his coalescent style, the artist has commented, “The movement of language toward abstraction is a consistent theme in my work. 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.” (Glenn Ligon in Hilarie M. Sheets, “The Writing on The Wall: Glenn Ligon on Borrowing Text to Expose American Racism, in 2011,”ARTNews, January 2016). The present lot utilizes content, form, shape, and language to ignite debates about representation, history and race relationships. Ligon’s use of Baldwin’s text, while seemingly submissive in its obscured presentation, is profoundly resonant in today’s political landscape. Once we parse through the thick layer of dust to grasp the first six lines: “It must be admitted that in the beginning I was far too shocked to have any real reaction. In so far as I reacted at all, I reacted by trying to be pleasant—it being a great part of the American Negro's education (long before he goes to school) that he must make people like him.” (James Baldwin, “STRANGER IN THE VILLAGE,” from Notes of a Native Son, 1955, 1984, pp. 159-75)

  • 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 in the Village #11

enamel and coal dust on canvas mounted on panel
96 x 72 in. (243.8 x 182.9 cm)
Signed, titled and dated "Glenn Ligon Stranger in the Village #11 1997" along the overlap.

$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $1,445,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 May 2016