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Glenn Ligon (b. 1960)
Stranger #27
signed twice, titled twice and dated twice 'Glenn Ligon Stranger #27 2007' (on the reverse and on the overlap)
oil, acrylic, coal dust and resin on canvas
96 1/8 x 72 in. (243.8 x 182.9 cm.)
Painted in 2007.
Regen Projects, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Sale Room Notice
Please note the correct provenance for the present lot:
Regen Projects, Los Angeles
Private collection, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Lot Essay

"From all available evidence no black man had ever set foot in this tiny Swiss village before I came. I was told before arriving that I would probably be a 'sight' for the village; I took this to mean that people of my complexion were rarely seen in Switzerland, and also that city people are always something of a 'sight' outside of the city. It did not occur to me - possibly because I am an American - that there could be people anywhere who had never seen a Negro." - James Baldwin, "Stranger in The Village".
Glenn Ligon's Stranger #27 boldly engages the tensions and ironies of the artist's multifaceted life: his identity as a gay African-American born in a time of civil unrest and cultural appropriation, his childhood in the Bronx, and the history associated with these identities. Ligon studied at the Whitney's Independent Study program, where painting was frowned upon, the conceptual and intertextual, favored. Ligon's work has always found meaning gratified through stylistic deconstruction. Iconoclastically, Ligon found his particular style through what his education disdained - painting.
In Ligon's earlier work, he used epigraphs from African-American writers, including Zora Neale Hurston among others, as a form of glossolalia. In contrast, Ligon based the Stranger series on whole texts, allowing written language to veer towards abstraction, almost abandoning linguistic communication.
James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son informs Ligon's ekphrastic renderings, in which Ligon creates an "illuminated script". Ligon uses the written word to express a dichotomous anomaly: the text, at once appropriated and deconstructed, also builds upon myriad statements on racial identity, in a way unique to Ligon. He says of the subject matter for Stranger, "It's a text that I've used in a lot of paintings. The essay ["Stranger in The Village"] is from the mid-'50s, when he's moved to Switzerland to work on a novel, and he finds himself the only black man living in a tiny Swiss village. The essay is about the fascination and fear that the villagers approach him with. He even says, 'They don't believe I'm American - black people come from Africa.' The essay is not only about race relations, but about what it means to be a stranger anywhere. How does one break down the barrier between people? It's a global question and it probably reflects what I've been trying to do-reach out more."
This work recalls Jasper Johns through the very masculine, staunch, systematic use of text, adhering to splashed font style and rigid, unmarginalized line-breaks. However, Ligon uses the medium more like Jenny Holzer, commenting on language's ephemerality and instability. Stranger #27 breathes in a propulsive, brooding scansion of moldering text. Even the particular materials, such as charcoal, speak to Ligon's concern for the obscure and the ephemeral.
Ligon uses countless phases of stenciling, oil painting, and charcoal rendering, taking his method to points where the words, though instantly recognizable, border on indistinct. Viewing the work up close, we can see that Ligon stops just short of oblivion - we can make out the words as they emerge from the inky darkness. Stranger #27 looms in lofty, broad, daunting expansiveness, yet the work is superbly textural. In Stranger #27, Ligon marries the work's massive proportions with a faultless decadent precision, resulting in a work both bold and ominous. In Ligon's world, the "black" obliterates the individual.
Stranger #27 wields true power and magic by conveying such multitudinous issues within such a simple, unified context. Ligon transcends the standard labeling of "African American Artist", while still boldly embracing and commenting upon the cultural dissonance found in the topic of race. Ligon's work expresses neither latent anger nor defiant reconciliation, making the work a shifting, breathing commentary. In that, Stranger #27 is a crown jewel of not only Ligon's work, but also that of all his contemporaries.

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