At MoMA, Glenn Ligon Artfully Articulates Powerful Words

NEW YORK—You can always count on Glenn Ligon for insightful words of wisdom, whether in his clever neon works or here, where he borrows prose from Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison to produce etchings and aquatints. Produced a decade ago, Ligon’s text-based works are executed in a densely layered manner that obscures some of the words, further dramatizing and underscoring their meaning.

The prints, currently exhibited in the Painting and Sculpture galleries at the Museum of Modern Art, draw from Hurston’s 1928 “How it Feels to be Colored Me” and Ellison’s 1952 novel “Invisible Man.” The candid texts articulate what many 20th century blacks certainly felt but were loathe to reveal.

The self-portrait that follows is on display in MoMA’s second floor lobby. Although the stencil looks like Stevie Wonder, it is Ligon’s vision of himself as a young boy rendered using the image of the idolized musician.

All photos © Arts Observer

Installation view of “Untitled (Four Etchings),” 1992 (series of four etchings and aquatints) by Glenn Ligon.

The prints include the following phrases, among others: “I do not always feel colored”; “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background”; and “I am an invisible man…I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

Detail of “Untitled (Four Etchings).”

“Self Portrait at Eleven Years Old,” 2004 (stenciled linen pulp) by Glenn Ligon.

The above work was inspired by the image of Stevie Wonder on his 1977 greatest hits triple LP album “Looking Back.” According to the exhibit label, “Ligon enlarged the image and used a stencil to create clustered circles of black linen pulp that mimick the Benday dots of the original.”

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