Glenn Ligon’s Group Show ‘Blue Black’ Explores the Dramatic Tension of Race and Color in America

The artist took inspiration from the eponymous Ellsworth Kelly painting.

Glenn Ligon, ,Small Band (2015). Courtesy the artist; Thomas Dane Gallery, London; Luhring Augustine, New York; Regan Projects, Los Angeles. © Glenn Ligon.
Glenn Ligon, Small Band (2015). Courtesy the artist; Thomas Dane Gallery, London; Luhring Augustine, New York; Regan Projects, Los Angeles. © Glenn Ligon.

The American conceptual artist Glenn Ligon, widely known for his neon sculptures and text paintings, has curated an impressive group exhibition at the Pulitzer Art Foundation in St. Louis. “Blue Black,” the show’s title, is inspired by the eponymous Ellsworth Kelly painting that is permanently installed at the Pulitzer. The 28-foot-tall Kelly work, made 15 years before the artist’s death, is comprised of two large monochrome aluminum panels painted blue and black. The hues of the paintings have become the theme for which Ligon deftly explores notions of race, language, color, and identity in manifold selections of paintings, sculptures, and mixed media works. The show includes over 50 artworks—from established artists like Suzanne McClelland, Andy Warhol, Norman Lewis, and Kara Walker to up-and-coming artists such as Eric Mack and Turiya Magadlela—appearing alongside Ligon’s work.

While the exhibition sees the artist delving into a form of creative expression not all too common in Ligon’s practice, “Blue Black” is not the artist’s first foray into curating: The artist curated a project in 2015, titled “Encounter and Collisions,” first exhibited at Nottingham Contemporary and later at the Tate Liverpool. The exhibition, drawing inspiration from the Ligon’s collected writings on artists he admired, brought together artists whose work have rarely been seen together in one place, such as Beauford Delaney and Franz Kline. Similarly, “Blue Black” brings works that have never been seen together before. Here, however, the convergence draws on the dramatic tension between two specific colors—both formally and symbolically.

One of the more noteworthy examples of this is Kerry James Marshall‘s Untitled (policeman) (2015), a painting of black Chicago police officer sitting on the hood of his car. The work not only complicates the friction between what both colors represent in this country (i.e., a black man and police officer)—and the implied violence that comes from such juxtaposition—the compositional framing and the use of cool blues and rich blacks darken the painting in a way that shortens the depth field of the picture plane.

The result is a deep sense of anxiety caused by both the subject matter and the tension between the flatness and depth of space created from both colors in the work. Other examples are much more abstract, duly exploring how the interaction of both colors imply or negate space. These works include Norman Lewis’s Blue and Boogie (1974), and Ross Bleckner‘s Gallaxy Painting (1993).

Despite the solemness that these colors imply, “Blue Black” offers a profound range of complexities that the two pigments, together, can provide—from the highly political to the deeply beautiful.

See more images of the exhibition below:

Ross BlecknerGalaxy Painting, 1993Oil on canvas60 x 48 inches (152.4 x 121.9 cm)Linda Pace Foundation, San Antonio, TX

Ross Bleckner, Galaxy Painting (1993). Courtesy the Linda Pace Foundation, San Antonio.

Carrie Mae WeemsBlue Black Boy, 1997Blue-toned print15 3/8 x 15 1/4 inches (39 x 38.7 cm)Framed: 31 1/8 x 31 1/8 x 1 7/16 inches (79.1 x 79.1 x 3.8 cm)Collection Jack Shainman, New York© Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Carrie Mae Weems, Blue Black Boy (1997).© Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Andy WarholLiz #4, 1963Synthetic polymer paint silkscreened on canvas40 x 40 inches (101.6 x 101.6 cm)Private Collection © 2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Andy Warhol, Liz #4, (1963). Courtesy the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Bill TraylorMan in Blue Pants and Cap With Lunch Box, 1939-1942Poster paint and pencil on cardboard13 1/2 x 7 1/4 inches (34.3 x 18.4 cm)Courtesy of The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation Inc.

Bill Traylor, Man in Blue Pants and Cap With Lunch Box (1939-1942). Courtesy of the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation Inc.

Installation view of Blue Black, Entrance Gallery Pulitzer Arts Foundation, 2017 Photograph © Alise O’Brien Photography Simone Leigh Dunham, 2017 Terracotta, porcelain, raffia, steel, glass bead, epoxy, India ink 35 x 30 x 30 inches (88.9 x 76.2 x 76.2 cm) Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York © Simone Leigh Installation view of Blue Black, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, 2017 Photograph © Alise O’Brien Photography

Simone Leigh, Dunham (2017). Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York © Simone Leigh Installation view of Blue Black, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, 2017 Photograph © Alise O’Brien Photography

Lynette Yiadom-BoakyeMessages from Elsewhere, 2013Oil on canvas59 x 55 inches (149.9 x 139.7 cm)Private Collection, Chicago© Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Image courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, and Corvi-Mora, London.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Messages from Elsewhere (2013).  Image courtesy the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, and Corvi-Mora, London.

Norman LewisBlue and Boogie, 1974 Oil on canvas44 1/4 x 56 inches (112.4 x 142.24 cm)Framed: 46 x 58 x 2 1/2 inches (116.8 x 147 x 6.4 cm)The Studio Museum in Harlem; gift of the Estate of Norman Lewis1981.1.1Photo: Marc Bernier

Norman Lewis, Blue and Boogie (1974). Courtesy the Studio Museum in Harlem. Photo: Marc Bernier.

Kerry James MarshallUntitled (policeman), 2015Synthetic polymer paint on PVC panel with plexiframe60 x 60 inches (152.4 × 152.4 cm)The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mimi Haas in honor of Marie-Josée Kravis, 2016Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (policeman) (2015). Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Ellsworth Kelly Black Blue, 1959Oil on canvas 30 1/4 x 24 1/8 inches (76.8 x 61.3 cm)Courtesy Ellsworth Kelly Studio

Ellsworth Kelly, Black Blue (1959). Courtesy Ellsworth Kelly Studio

Glenn Ligon’s “Blue Black” is on view at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, St. Louis, through October 7, 2017.


Follow artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.

Share

Article topics