Following the example of other artists who used appropriation to deliver a politically charged messages such as Sherrie Levine and Barbara Kruger, Ligon has distinguished himself through his unique capability to aestheticise the living reality of members of minority groups. The present work is a glowing example of this union of incisive thought with pristine aesthetics. Whilst compositionally similar to Richard Prince’s infamous Jokes series, No Room (Gold) #31 emanates an atmospheric depth that reveals the underlying political forces that diminish the chances of progress. Ligon’s decision to use stencils to inscribe the surface of the canvas is technically and stylistically reminiscent of Jasper Johns’ approach and arrives at a similarly mechanically imperfect écriture.
As the foremost body of work from Glenn Ligon’s career-defining investigations into issues of identity and societal inequality, the text-based paintings stand out through their combinations of monochromatic backgrounds with stencilled quotations pertaining to race, sexuality or self. The artist borrows these from thinkers as diverse as Jean Genet, Gertrude Stein or in the case of the present work, Richard Pryor, an entertainer and commentator on the fight for racial equality. Pryor's writings were a source that Ligon would return to time and again and they are the subject of over one hundred of his paintings. His dark humour, which wrly confronted his audience with the bitter social realities of 20th century America, perfectly echoed Ligon’s artistic ambitions. Appropriating Pryor’s joke decades after its original expression in the year of a heated electoral campaign resulting in the election of the first African-American president, Ligon would demonstrate the persistent relevance of the subject matter. Embracing the topicality of Ligon’s oeuvre and the historical relevance of the series, President Obama and his wife Michelle hung Ligon’s Black Like Me #2, an earlier, conceptually and thematically alike work, in their private suite in the White House.
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