Tate Liverpool and Nottingham Contemporary present a major exhibition curated by one of America’s most distinguished contemporary artists, Glenn Ligon (b.1960, New York). Ranging from Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Bruce Nauman and David Hammons to Steve McQueen, Lorna Simpson, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Chris Ofili and Kara Walker, Encounters and Collisions presents an extraordinary group of artists who have influenced Ligon or with whom he feels an affinity.
The works, chosen by Ligon, have multiple relationships to his art and often feature in his own writings; their presentation could be described as Ligon's 'ideal museum'. Together they position postwar American artistic endeavours within wider political and cultural contexts. Since the late 1980s Glenn Ligon’s practice has actively referenced other artists, works of literature and culture more broadly. His work often deals in subtle and probing ways with the shifting experience of American identity, borrowing directly from textual and visual sources as varied as slave narratives, the essays of James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston, the comedy routines of Richard Pryor, or news coverage of Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March of 1995. Ligon is a painter who also makes work in many other media: print, video, neon and installation. Similarly, the works in Encounters and Collisions juxtapose paintings and other media, even expanding into parallel disciplines such as photojournalism.
Exploring the poetics and politics of difference, Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions provides a new framework with which we can view the American canon. Giants of abstract expressionism, such as Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning, appear, as do key representatives of tendencies in American art that followed in its wake, from pop art and minimalism to conceptual art and performance. This work is brought into close dialogue with the evolving politics of its day, in particular the Civil Rights struggle and the Black Liberation movement. Ligon’s own generation of artists is well represented, including David Wojnarowicz, Byron Kim, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Zoe Leonard. Like Ligon, these and other artists explored difficult questions around representations of race, gender and sexuality during the reactionary aftermath of the ‘Culture Wars’ and the AIDS crisis at the close of the Reagan era.
Several of Glenn Ligon’s own works will anchor this wide-ranging exhibition. They include Stranger #23 2006, a large black on black painting featuring a stenciled passage from James Baldwin’s Stranger in the Village, the letters picked out in sparkling coal dust. It also features one of Ligon’s paintings of Malcolm X in gaudy make-up – one of a number of paintings he based on an African-American colouring book from the 1970s that he invited young children to colour in a few decades later. His seminal work Untitled (I Lost My Voice I Found My Voice) 1991 is also exhibited as well as an example of Ligon’s work in video: an abstracted version of a film adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, directed by Thomas Edison in 1903.
Meanwhile the word AMERICA faintly glows in a work made from black painted neon in DLA Piper Series: Constellations. The free Tate collection display encourages the exploration of connections between artworks and Ligon’s neon work will be at the centre of a ‘constellation’ curated by Ligon himself. Featuring work by artists Robert Morris, Sam Gilliam and Bruce Davidson, his selection will set off new encounters and collisions.
Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions is a collaboration between Nottingham Contemporary and Tate Liverpool curated by Glenn Ligon, in dialogue with Alex Farquharson, Director, Nottingham Contemporary, and Francesco Manacorda, Artistic Director, Tate Liverpool. Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions is on display at Nottingham Contemporary from 3 April to 14 June 2015.
Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions will be exhibited alongside Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots and both exhibitions have been part funded by the European Regional Development Fund. The two complementing exhibitions will share Tate Liverpool’s fourth floor special exhibition galleries. Also running concurrently in the ground floor Wolfson Gallery is Geta Brătescu.