Glenn Ligon - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, October 5, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Dane D’Anglejan Chantala, London
    Private Collection, Los Angeles

  • Catalogue Essay

    Manifesting itself with an all-encompassing presence, Stranger Study #11 is a quintessential example of Glenn Ligon’s iconic Stranger series. What, at first glance, appears to be a richly textured black monochrome, upon closer inspection reveals itself to be a dense amalgamation of text on the cusp of legibility, its coal powder-dusted surface glimmering seductively as it catches the light. Executed in 2012 in the aftermath of the artist’s important mid-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum, New York, the present work is a continuation of Ligon’s over twenty-year fascination with James Baldwin’s 1955 Stranger in the Village – a semi-autobiographical essay exploring questions of race and history that has provided the basis for Ligon’s Stranger series since its inception in the mid-1990s. Demonstrating Ligon’s acclaimed strategy of pushing appropriated text into abstraction, Stranger Study #11 is the result of the systematic overlaying of stenciled passages from Baldwin’s essay with black oilstick until they coalesce into near illegibility. With other examples of this series prominently housed in such institutions as the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, this work is a powerful example of Ligon’s acclaimed conceptual practice.

    Stranger Study #11 powerfully visualises Ligon’s revolutionary approach to abstraction that has cemented the Stranger series as ‘Ligon’s most sustained exploration of a single text and formal vocabulary’ (Scott Rothkopf, Glenn Ligon: AMERICA, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2011, p. 42). With a sly nod to the history of modern art, Ligon formally plays on the monochromatic reductiveness of such artistic forebears as Kazimir Malevich and Ad Reinhardt, while simultaneously expanding upon the repetitive and serial processes pioneered by Sol LeWitt and Jasper Johns. Here, Ligon transforms text fragments into a tantalizing quasi-abstract image, a strategy of textual appropriation Ligon has pursued ever since his participation in the Whitney Museum’s prestigious independent study program in 1985. As Ligon explained, ‘there is always that push/pull in the work, of the desire for legibility and disappearance of the text’ (Glenn Ligon, quoted in Glenn Ligon—Some Changes, exh. cat., The Power Plant, Toronto, 2005, pp. 128-129).

    Teetering between text and image, Stranger Study #11 powerfully achieves Ligon’s conceptual project of taking the premise of Stranger in the Village 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’ (Glenn Ligon, quoted in Hilarie M. Sheets, ‘The Writing on the Wall’, ARTnews, April 2011, p. 89). While Ligon in the course of his career has drawn from a variety of writers, critics and theorists, including Gertrude Stein, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, and Richard Dyer, he has been particularly drawn to the African American writer and social critic Baldwin for his exploration of black, gay and bisexual identity, as well as his emphasis on the power of language as a structural tool of oppression. Written at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement in the United States, Baldwin’s Stranger in the Village gives an account of the author’s own experience as the first African-American to visit a remote Swiss village in 1951, taking the xenophobic reaction that his arrival triggered in the villagers as a metaphor for the history of race relations, colonialism and national identity. With Stranger Study #11, Ligon puts forth the ultimate embodiment of Baldwin’s maxim that 'Americans attempt until today to make an abstraction of the Negro' (James Baldwin, ‘Stranger in the Village’, 1953, in James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, 1948-1985, New York, 1984, p. 87).

    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 because of all of the contradictory readings it engenders. Worthless. Waste. Black. Beautiful. Shiny. Reflective (Glenn Ligon: Stranger, exh. cat., The Studio Museum of Harlem, New York, 2001, n.p.). As Ligon importantly puts forward, Baldwin’s ‘essay is not only about race relations, but about what it means to be a stranger anywhere. How does one break down the barrier between people? It’s a global question and it probably reflects what I’ve been trying to do—reach out more’ (Glenn Ligon, quoted in Jason Moran “Glenn Ligon”, Interview Magazine, 8 June 2009, n.p.). Offering a complex interrogation of notions of identity, history, visibility and language, Stranger Study #11 presents us with a powerful meditation on difference, whose relevance is only heightened as the fear of the ‘other’ permeates through the current socio-political global moment.

  • 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.

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Stranger Study #11

signed, titled and dated 'Glenn Ligon "Stranger Study #11" 2012' on the reverse; further signed titled and dated 'Glenn Ligon "Stranger Study #11" 2012' on the overlap
oilstick, acrylic and coal dust on linen
101.6 x 76.2 cm (40 x 30 in.)
Executed in 2012.

£300,000 - 400,000 

Sold for £345,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 6 October 2017