Glenn Ligon - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 17, 2017 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Provenance

    Regen Projects, Los Angeles
    Private Collection, Europe
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    "To call someone a stranger is to keep them at a certain distance, to deny them the possibility of approaching us and to keep us safe from their plight. In doing so we diminish them and we diminish ourselves. We need, as a society, to go in another direction. We need to go towards "them."" Glenn Ligon

    Pulling text from page to canvas, Glenn Ligon's paintings depict stenciled literary fragments in enamel and coal dust as seen in the present lot, a stunning example from his acclaimed Stranger in the Village series. Stranger in the Village written by famed African American novelist, essayist, playwright, and poet, James Baldwin in 1953, describes the author’s experiences as the first black person to enter a small Alpine village in Switzerland. His account is superbly crafted as both a personal narrative and a larger statement on the historical notions of “whiteness” and “blackness”. Baldwin’s words recounting his feelings of personal isolation within this remote mountain village can be vaguely made out in the coal dusted letters of Stranger in the Village #55. Ligon’s black text, applied against a black background, weaves in and out of legibility, visually obscuring our ability to comprehend these written truths of historical and racial identity. The choice of coal dust, as the artist explains, “bumped up the physicality of the text, but at the same time obscured the text…. Coal dust is an interesting material for me because it’s beautiful; it’s a black, shiny material, but it’s also a waste product … leftover from coal processing. I am drawn to it because of all of the contradictory readings it engenders” (Glenn Ligon quoted in Glenn Ligon: stranger, exh. cat., The Studio Museum of Harlem, New York, 2001). Such contradictory meanings oscillate between beauty and waste, mystery and reflection. The result is an illustration of Ligon's perceived negatives in a material that illuminates the viewer’s space, allowing for one’s own interpretation to exist between the lines.

  • 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 #55

signed, titled and dated "Glenn Ligon Stranger #55 2011" on the reverse; further signed, titled and dated "Glenn Ligon Stranger #55 2011" on the overlap
oilstick, acrylic and coal dust on canvas
72 x 72 in. (182.9 x 182.9 cm.)
Executed in 2011.

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $874,000

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2017