Brooklyn-based artist, Glenn Ligon is known for his text-filled explorations of history, especially African American history and most recently of interracial gay sex, concerning the social, cultural, and political aspects. Using language, he has said of his work that he wants to “make language into a physical thing, something that has real weight and force to it.”
Ligon’s paintings feature a carefully selected phrase of or sentence taken from literary sources such as James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Mary Shelley and Jean Genet. Evocative quotes by these authors are hand stenciled onto the canvas or printing plate repeatedly, yielding surfaces comprised of line after line of the chosen words, some legible and others less so (www.broadartfoundation.org).
Two of his pieces are “Twin” and “Colonial.” “Twin” consists of a trundle bed littered with porn magazines showing black and interracial gay sex; tucked under the bed is the 1992 Newsweek issue with Jeffrey Dahmer on the cover. In “Colonial,” small pictures of Dahmer’s victims (all men of color) have been cut from magazines and taped to a mirror like portraits of loved ones. Together, these works effectively conjure not only a gay teenager’s fear of being “found out,” but also the dangers that arise when sexual desires cannot be openly acknowledged. His piece, “Console,” shows a stereo playing an Al Green record and cluttered with a copy of Jet magazine, a Disneyland mug, a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr., and a JFK/Martin Luther King ashtray. According to critic Anastasia Aukeman, these debased icons have a bizarre potency: it’s astonishing that the ideals of the Civil Rights movement can be encapsulated untarnished in such kitsch items.
Walker Art Center website
Art and Culture website
Broad Art Foundation website
Biography from the Archives of AskART.