Conceptual artist Glenn Ligon will speak tonight, Thursday, January 10, at the Woodruff Arts Center’s Rich Theatre as part of the High Museum’s series, Conversations with Contemporary Artists. (Check the High Museum’s website for ticket info here.)
Ligon is known for producing candid multimedia work that deals with identity, race, sexuality, and language. His most popular are perhaps his text-based paintings using quotes from renowned individuals such as writers Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin, political figure Jesse Jackson, and comic icon Richard Pryor. Ligon paints these quotes in repetition over the canvas, demanding that the viewer confront the discomfiting: racist aspects of American history, presumptions of male sexuality, the value we place in names, and the ways we want to be represented.
Ligon’s work, which ranges from painting and sculpture to installations and photography, conveys delicate nuance, unexpected humor, and useful provocation. From historical moments like the Million Man March that prompted signs declaring “I Am a Man” to children’s interpretations of 1970s black history coloring books, Ligon approaches his subjects with a restrained beauty.
His lecture is likely to strike an engaging balance, much in the same way his painterly techniques meld with his choice of text. Of his abstract, yet literary paintings, Ligon has said that he looks to “make language into a physical thing, something that has real weight and force to it.” The cultural context of his work speaks volumes, but it’s the familiarity of language coupled with an aesthetic appeal that draws the viewer in closer. His work, although at times difficult to deal with, is never far from being relatable.
In the early ‘90s, Ligon exhibited Notes on the Margin of the “Black Book,” combining text with Robert Mapplethorpe’s nude black men. The text included quotes from all stripes: politicians, academics, drag queens, and artists. The words weren’t intended to inform the viewer how to feel about Mapplethorpe’s subjects, but to allow the viewer to recognize the myriad ways that society projects its hopes and concerns on a particular demographic. Ligon’s Notes are hardly on the periphery—they, like most of his works, call us to hone in on what actually needed our attention all along.
Ligon’s mid-career retrospective, AMERICA, made the exhibition rounds in 2011, traveling from the Whitney Museum to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Selected pieces of Ligon’s work are included in the High Museum’s current Fast Forward exhibition, as well as in the museum’s modern and contemporary permanent collection.
The lecture begins at 7PM. Tickets are $10 for museum members, $15 for non-members, and $5 for students with valid ID. Seating is limited. Galleries will be open until 10PM following the lecture. For reservations and more information, phone the Woodruff Arts Center Box Office at 404-733-5000.