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  • Overview

     

    Glenn Ligon’s towering Mirror #2 is an exceptional token of the artist’s capacity to express clear, uncluttered truths, rooted in the history of people and language. Achieved with accrued impressions of oil stick on canvas, forming letters which themselves form sentences, the present composition experiments with notions of appearance and disappearance — a dichotomy dear to Ligon’s investigation of texts relating to the history of black people and identity politics. Looking at James Baldwin’s seminal contributions specifically, Ligon argues that the materials he chooses — oil stick and coal dust — mimic the subject of marginality Baldwin delves into, and his ability to analyse the absence and presence of black entities in historical narratives. Coal dust is ‘leftover product from coal processing’, Ligon says, and ‘I am drawn to it because of all of the contradictory readings it engenders’.1 With works like Mirror #2, Ligon’s monochrome canvas is transformed into a verbose story, a historic artifact, that twines physical matter with evocative, yet eluding linguistics. 'The text within its confines assumes an abstract physical form, one that ‘has real weight and force to it’.2

    '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

    Executed in 2006, Mirror #2 forms part of a collection of ten paintings Ligon made on the occasion of his 2006 monographic show at Yvon Lambert, Paris, entitled Glenn Ligon: We Had Everything Before Us – We Had Nothing Before Us. The paintings displayed in the exhibition were based on Ligon’s former work Mirror, 2002, which was one of eight coaldust text paintings he had included in Documenta XI, Kassel, that same year. The text reproduced in those works was culled from James Bladwin’s infamous 1953 essay Stranger in the Village, addressing subjects of immigration, assimilation and citizenship. As such, Mirror #2 exists alongside Ligon’s celebrated and eponymous series Stranger in the Village initiated in 1997 – a sequence of works of which a number of examples reside in prestigious institutions such as The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, among others.

     

    Jasper Johns, Sculpmetal Numbers, 1963, sculp-metal on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia. Image: © 2021  The Philadelphia Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence. © Jasper Johns/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2021.
    Jasper Johns, Sculpmetal Numbers, 1963, sculp-metal on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia. Image: © 2021  The Philadelphia Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence. © Jasper Johns/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2021.

    Though he commenced his career as an abstract painter, looking at such predecessors as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock for inspiration, Ligon began incorporating text into his work in the mid-1980s to better articulate his political concerns and ideas about racial identity and experience. As he embarked on this new trajectory, some painterly antecedents remained of particular importance in his apprehension of the medium, namely Jasper Johns and his stenciled letters or numbers, which posited as a stylistic groundwork from which to investigate new, personal truths. Through a unique intertextual approach, he began sampling writings from famed black writers including James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, and Ralph Ellison, attempting to materialise the plurality and complexity of black American experience as expressed in literature, through art. Whilst developing this artistic foundation, Ligon conceptualised the term ‘Post-Blackness’ alongside the curator Thelma Golden, describing ‘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’.3

     

    Presence and Absence

     

    In his painterly practice, Ligon has come to express the complexity of black experience with the paradoxical notion of presence and absence. ‘Ligon's work (...) is about being seen and not seen at the same time’, explains Hilton Als. ‘The surfaces of the paintings, their layers upon layers of coal dust and handiwork, both draw you close and push you away (but where to?).’4 With Mirror #2, the text’s diminishing legibility, weaving in and out of the viewer’s grasp in an entrancing, blackening expanse, entails an enthralling experience of 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.

     

    Installation shot: Venice, Palazzo Fortuni, Quand fondra la neige où ira le blanc, 4 June - 10 October 2016. Wall: Glenn Ligon, Mirror #2. Floor: Robert Breer. Image: © Antonio Maniscalco
    Installation shot: Venice, Palazzo Fortuny, Quand fondra la neige où ira le blanc, 4 June - 10 October 2016. Wall: Glenn Ligon, Mirror #2. Floor: Robert Breer. Image: © Antonio Maniscalco

     

    In His Own Words

     

     

    1 Glenn Ligon, quoted in Glenn Ligon: stranger, exh. cat., The Studio Museum of Harlem, New York, 2001, n.p.

    2 Roberta Smith, ‘Lack of Location Is My Location’, The New York Times, June 16, 1991, p. 27.

    3 Glenn Ligon, quoted in Darryl Pinckney, ‘Big Changes in Black America?’, NYBooks, 24 May 2012, online.

    4 Glenn Ligon, quoted in Hilton Als, ‘Strangers in the Village’, Glenn Ligon: America, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2011, p. 211.

    • Provenance

      Yvon Lambert Gallery, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2006

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Yvon Lambert Gallery, Glenn Ligon: We Had Everything Before Us–We Had Nothing Before Us, 4 February - 11 March 2006
      Avignon, La Prison Sainte-Anne, La Disparition des Lucioles, 18 May - 25 November 2014, p. 293, 376 (illustrated, p. 292)

    • Literature

      Venice, Palazzo Fortuny, Quand fondra la neige, où ira le blanc, 4 June – 6 November 2016, p. 33 (illustrated, Scrivere per interrogare l'immagine, p. 23)

    • 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

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Mirror #2

silkscreen, coal dust and oil stick on canvas
213.6 x 152.7 cm (84 1/8 x 60 1/8 in.)
Executed in 2006.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for £627,500

Contact Specialist

Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Director, Head of Day Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

+ 44 20 7318 4065
[email protected]

Out of the Blue: The Enea Righi Collection

London Auction 16 April 2021