The first two galleries show seemingly identical work- the only difference is the repeating text (left). Ok so we have stencil-like text and angry words on solid colored backgrounds. Fine. An adjoining room displays framed images of exoticised black men from Robert Mapplethorpe’s Black Book (1988) with framed quotes between. Ok. The more interesting and creative work is the fluorescent words which are white on black or black on white. So what?
Here is my problem with this midlife retrospective of Glenn Ligon, organized by the Whitney: why should I care? The straightforward and simple text does not leave me marveling at the technical abilities of Ligon. The angry hate speak is something we have all seen and heard. So why should I care? I left the museum angry and feeling let down by Ligon but I later realized that it is not the artist I should have a problem with as much as the Modern. The Modern does a lousy job of putting Ligon’s work into context. It was only after a couple hours of reading reviews that I began to understand the artists’ statement. The hate speak is selections from then current media sources and the photography quotes are independent of the images, spoken by famous and nameless people. I have not fully actualized on Ligon but I feel like I’m getting there. Maybe the point of this exhibit was to stay present in my foremost thoughts until I could unpack it, if so then great success Modern, but I doubt this. The pamphlets and website for the Ft. Worth Modern are seemingly sparse of information regarding this show. I realize they did not organize it but surely someone in operations should realize that telling me this man is important versus explaining to me why he is makes a big difference. Maybe I’m the only art nerd out there who likes to read at a museum to gain a framework for understanding, after all isn’t art about awareness and appreciation? Go see Ligon and decide for yourself. Maybe the vinyl text printer is on the fritz at the Modern.