artist / participant

press release

Thomas Dane Gallery are pleased to announce the first ever solo exhibition in the UK of American artist Glenn Ligon.

The exhibition - entitled Brilliant Corners after the classic album by Thelonious Monk - will consist of a series of new works - all using text as their central element. This use of text has been recurrent in the last fifteen years of Ligon's work, - most prominently in his painting. He borrows from diverse sources in literature, politics and popular culture to address issues of gender, race, history and sexuality.

Two coal-dust paintings - one with black text on a white ground and its larger black-on-black counterpart - incorporate passages of text stenciled in coal-dust and oil paint. The source of the text is the African American novelist James Baldwin's 1953 essay 'Stranger in the Village', in which he recounts the experience of being the first black man ever seen in a small town in the Swiss Alps. The themes in the essay - racial and ethnic identity, fear of and fascination with the "other" and the density and weight of language - find a conceptual and formal echo in Ligon's manipulations.

The build-up of paint and coaldust on the surface of the paintings render the text almost illegible, which suggests that the struggle to decipher the text is an integral part of their meaning. With precedence in the paintings of Ad Reinhardt and Jasper Johns, their reductive backgrounds, sensual text-appropriations and restricted palette are in dialogue with various strategies of modern and contemporary art history.

A group of eight smaller paintings, each with a lustrous silver background, feature the literal transcript of jokes by the late stand-up comedian Richard Pryor. In the past, this ongoing series has included text in strident colours, reminiscent of the awkward tonal arrangements of Andy Warhol's s silkscreen paintings. Here, the silver colour that so obsessed Warhol-symbolizing the color of the future, celebrity and movie culture is joined with Pryor's pointed social and political critiques. The syntax of the jokes, which is transcribed as is, retaining all the pauses and interjections of the spoken language, is reinforced by the smudging and marking that is the result of the process of stenciling the text.

Although regarded primarily as a painter, Ligon is wide-ranging in his practice, which includes printmaking, photography, neon, installation and video. Along with painting, Brilliant Corners will also feature two of Ligon's neon-sculptures. Neon has been used extensively in the last forty years as a medium for either writing in light or 'expanding' the notion of sculpture. Here Ligon shows the unique expressive potential of the medium by painting the exposed side of the glass tubes with black paint. The works glow from behind, against the wall, becoming 'eclipsed' fragments of text borrowed from the likes of Gertrude Stein or Sojourner Truth, the 19th century activist and former slave. The appropriated phrases, "Negro Sunshine" or "I sell the shadow to support the substance", become resonant metaphors made from simple matter.

Glenn Ligon - Some Changes

The third leg of Ligon' major touring exhibition opens at the end of September 2006 at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Some Changes was organised and originally hosted by the Power Plant in Toronto. The exhibition is co-curated by Wayne Baerwaldt, former Director of the Power Plant, and Thelma Golden, Deputy Director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, it has already travelled to Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum, at the beginning of 2006, and will next travel to the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus (January-April 2007), and the Musée d'Art Moderne of Luxembourg (October-December 2007).

Glenn Ligon was awarded the Skowhegan Medal for Painting in 2006.

Glenn Ligon
Brilliant Corners