Lot 4
  • 4

Glenn Ligon

350,000 - 450,000 USD
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  • Glenn Ligon
  • Stranger #64
  • signed, titled and dated 2012 on the reverse
  • oil, coal dust and gesso on canvas
  • 96 x 72 in. 243.8 x 182.9 cm.


Donated by the artist


This work is in excellent condition. Under ultraviolet light there are no apparent restorations. The canvas is not framed.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

In the landmark series of text-based paintings he has made since the late 1980s, Glenn Ligon appropriates extracts of culturally charged writings, making them both the subject and substance of visually rich works that draw on the legacies of modern painting and conceptual art. Recontextualizing language within the realm of his art making in this way, Ligon opens up simultaneous acts of seeing, reading, and understanding to multiple interpretations. In an early work, Untitled (I Am a Man) (1988), the words used in 1968 on placards held by protesting sanitation workers in Memphis appear in black block lettering against a field of white, scarred and worn by the application of oil and enamel together on the canvas. Other works have drawn on passages from such writers as James Baldwin, Jean Genet, and Zora Neale Hurston, stenciled repeatedly in black oilstick on door panels, or sensuously encrusted in coal dust and ink on canvas. Working across painting, printmaking, neon sculpture, video, and installation, Ligon explores a complex melding of the visual and textual to invite viewers to contemplate issues of race, sexuality, representation, and language.
Ligon’s relationship with the Whitney Museum of American Art began with his residency in the museum’s Independent Study Program in 1985, where his interest in artists such as de Kooning and Twombly began to influence his thinking about art. Beginning with his career-marking inclusion in the 1991 Whitney Biennial, works by Ligon have been featured in more than twenty exhibitions at the museum, including the important 2011 mid-career survey of his work, Glenn Ligon: AMERICA. The more than two dozen works in the museum’s permanent collection, comprising paintings, drawings, prints, and neon sculptures, represent the largest holdings of Ligon’s works by any institution. The 1990 paintings Untitled (I Do Not Always Feel Colored) and Untitled (I Am Not Tragically Colored) derive from a 1928 essay by Hurston. Their phrases, stenciled in black oilstick, appear in clear and then increasingly clotted, illegible succession down the white ground of the panel. The large canvas Stranger in the Village #12 (1998), by contrast, inscribes a passage from Baldwin in a textured, murky haze of black enamel, oil, synthetic polymer, and glitter. Two recent sculptural pieces translate the medium to neon: the word AMERICA appears in reverse letters in Rückenfigur (2009), while in Warm Broad Glow II (2011), the light from the words negro sunshine, from a Gertrude Stein novella, is obscured by black paint on its face. 
Stranger #64 (2012) draws on the 1953 James Baldwin essay Ligon has explored in earlier works, in which the writer, visiting an isolated village in Switzerland as perhaps the first black man to have appeared there, ponders questions of history in examining the otherness of his race in society. Just as Baldwin reflects on how Americans have made “an abstraction of the Negro,” here the application of oilstick, coal dust, and gesso on the canvas and the dense overlaying of text create an overall abstraction in relief, its legibility strained. In its denseness and texture, the work touches at once on both beauty and meaning.