Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ligon @ the White House and in LA

Compared to the conservative choices of previous administrations, the art that the Obamas selected for the walls of the White House living quarters was mostly contemporary art by mostly living artists. Among them was New York-based Glenn Ligon, who, at 49, was the youngest artist to have his work chosen.

The news took a while to reach Ligon.

"No one called me so when I heard about it, I thought it might be a rumor," he said Wednesday, as he helped install his work for a show at Regen Projects in West Hollywood that opens Saturday. "Then I saw my work in a list of images in Smithsonian Magazine."

The 49-year-old Conceptual painter considers it an honor, and, he says, "I'm glad to think it is in the living quarters, to be where they sleep, eat dinner, where they will be able to see it. That part, I was thrilled about."

Ligon, who is African American, is known for texts stenciled in paint on canvas. The text in the 1992 painting selected by the Obamas is from John Howard Griffin's 1961 memoir "Black Like Me," the account of a white man's experiences traveling through the South after he had his skin artificially darkened.

The words "All traces of the Griffin I had been were wiped from existence" are repeated in capital letters that progressively overlap until they coalesce as a field of black paint. The picture belongs to the Hirshhorn Museum, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution, which loans art to the White House.

Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, N.Y., has organized many exhibitions that have included Ligon's art.

"I think Glenn Ligon is one of the most important artists working today," she said. "In his work, I am constantly amazed and inspired by his ability to operate on the level of deep thought and real feeling."

Ligon, who will have a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2011, is exhibiting his most recent art at Regen on the occasion of the gallery's 20th anniversary.
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