At Luhring Augustine, Glenn Ligon Shows Us the Silent Comedy of Richard Pryor

THE DAILY PIC: A comedian known for his rage becomes the choked voice of sorrow.


THE DAILY PIC (#1476): If there’s one thing we know about the late, great comedian Richard Pryor, it’s that he was loud, foulmouthed and angry. All that is reversed in a new video installation by Glenn Ligon now on view at Luhring Augustine’s Bushwick space. The piece is titled Live, and although it’s entirely made up of recut footage of Pryor in concert, he becomes an utterly silent force. Ligon’s piece spreads the concert footage, from 1982, across seven soundless screens, one showing the comedian’s whole figure, the others cropping the image so it only shows the comedian’s hand, the shadow behind him, his crotch, his mouth and so on.

Where the original concert footage encourages empathy and identification, pulling us right inside Pryor’s hot rhetoric, Ligon’s piece puts us far outside it, in the contemplative, cool space of art. In the silence of the gallery, Pryor’s true powerlessness becomes evident, as does the sadness his work was tinged with. His rage – and his comedy – arose from that impotence and sorrow, and the impossibility of finding a voice that could truly be heard. (Installation view at Regen Projects, Los Angeles, 2015; photo by Joshua White)

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