Glenn Ligon “‘Nobody’ and Other Songs” at Thomas Dane Gallery 29 January – 7 March
The video, “The Death of Tom,” is based on the final scene from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Edwin S. Porter’s 14-minute silent film made for the Thomas A. Edison studio in 1903. Shot on 16 mm black and white film, Ligon sought to recreate Tom’s death scene, where the main character of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel lies on the floor of a woodshed as visions of the future float over his head. However, after the footage was developed, he discovered the images were blurred. Intrigued by this disappearance – the subject of his own artistic production in paintings and other media over the last decade and a half – Ligon decided to use the “ruined” film anyway, transferring it to video and adding a commissioned score by the jazz pianist Jason Moran based on the vaudeville song “Nobody.” The resulting video, with its dense shadows and ghostly lights, hovers on the edge of representation and becomes a narrative that – like the larger historical narratives to which it refers – remains unfinished business.
In addition, Ligon has produced a set of photogravures based on frames of the video. Another work in the show is “Untitled”, the last of a series of neon pieces inspired by the first chapter of Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities.” The neon spells “America” in large letters and the glowing white tubing has been painted black on the front but not the back, so that the letters appear backlighted by white light. The neon also has an animator, which makes the light slowly fade off and on over the course of several hours. Glowing and eclipsed, fading and reviving, the neon is a meditation on the optimism and ambivalence of this particular historical moment. Other works in the show include “Excerpt”, a neon based on Nauman’s “One Hundred Live and Die” and a series of oilstick drawings which use text from Franz Kafka’s diaries.
Glenn Ligon (b 1960) lives and works in New York. In 2005 he was the subject of a major touring exhibition, “Some Changes,” which was presented at the Power Plant, Toronto. The exhibition was co-curated by Wayne Baerwaldt, former Director of the Power Plant, and Thelma Golden, Director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, and travelled to Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, and the Musée d’Art Moderne of Luxembourg. ? He has exhibited widely in the United States and around the world. Ligon’s work is held in distinguished collections including The Whitney Museum, NY, The Museum of Modern Art, NY, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and The Tate Modern, London.
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