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Glenn Ligon (American, born 1960)
Untitled, 
2007
Photogravure on paper
30 x 20 inches
From The Rivington Place Portfolio.
Edition of 70. Published by Brodsky Center, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
Collaborating Master Printer: Randy Hemminghaus.


Glenn Ligon

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In his ongoing signature painting series “Stranger” (1996–present), Glenn Ligon uses coal dust to stencil quotes he lifts from James Baldwin’s 1953 essay Stranger in the Village.  “I wanted the material that I was using for the paintings to have the same kind of gravitas as the text,” the artist has said. Baldwin’s essay offers a sharp analysis of why segregation in America has been constrained by history. Yet, it sees black-white relations as evolving in time, holding the promise that this world “will never be white again.”

In this Untitled print, Ligon reproduces a 1987 article on Dutch painter and art theoretician Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–1678). The article was written by Joyce Plesters, a scientist at the National Gallery’s conservation department in London, who spearheaded the examination of old masters’ paintings by chemical microscopy in the 1950s. Describing black pigment, the excerpted text and photograph are reproduced by Ligon as reassigned to his own process.

In an earlier instance, Ligon had used a conservator’s report on Untitled (I Am a Man), his 1988 painting derived from Ernest C. Withers’s photograph of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike. Condition Report (2000) represented time and exposure altering Untitled (I Am a Man), his first text-based painting; but, symbolically, the report echoed as well the changing relationship that younger generations of African Americans have to the historical Civil Rights Movement.

In this print, Ligon appropriates a digital image taken through a microscope (micrograph) to describe the use of the color black as a metaphor for representing black identity. In the context of Ligon’s work, the captioned micrograph spirals off its straightforward scientific purpose. It reverberates, instead, the artist’s psychological and intellectual dialogue with himself, as he aspires to disengage from the boundaries of history and speak from his inquisitive, contemporary perspective.

This print was created in collaboration with Rivington Place, the first visual arts center in London dedicated to the study and presentation of diverse cultural backgrounds, celebrating ten years on October 5, 2017.