Glenn Ligon
Neither Here nor There

22 April - 29 May 2010

Michael Stevenson is pleased to present a solo exhibition by Glenn Ligon as part of the FOREX series.

Ligon's work engages social and personal histories, memory, and the ways in which groups and individuals are represented - revealing the complexities and subtleties of social constructs of race, language, sexuality and gender. He uses text, language and imagery from a wide range of popular culture sources, from stand-up comedy routines and children's colouring and schoolbooks to slave narratives and the literary works of James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Genet and Gertrude Stein

Neither Here nor There brings together new and recent works that speak of encounters with, or in, Africa. Three new paintings from the Figure series continue Ligon's investigation of James Baldwin's seminal 1953 meditation on otherness, 'Stranger in the Village', about his time as the only black man in a small Swiss town.

For these works, Ligon silkscreened an image of an existing painting onto white backgrounds, and covered them in a thin layer of coal dust that attached itself to the ink, at times revealing, at times obscuring the text. As images of an image, these paintings move between legibility and abstraction, exemplifying Ligon's interest in the limits of text, and the edges of meaning.

In addition to painting, Ligon has a wide-ranging art practice including neon, print, installation and video. His show in Cape Town will include the 2008 video The Death of Tom, a re-enactment of Thomas Edison's silent-film version from 1903, filmed on a hand-cranked camera, 16mm black-and-white film with a double exposure. The film, however, was severely damaged during processing, and Ligon states:

The film was just blurry, fluttery, burnt-out black-and-white images, all light and shadows. But I thought that failure of representation was in line with my larger artistic project, which has always been about turning something legible like a text into an abstraction.

The neon piece in the show is based on the Nigerian expression 'Face me, I face you', which refers to the sharing of a mattress in the cramped quarters of the many tenement buildings that cover Lagos. One gets the sense of a deeply personal encounter, as few things are more intimate than sharing one's sleeping space.

A last painting, from a series based on jokes by the American comedian Richard Pryor, who visited West Africa in 1979 at the height of his fame, invokes a distinctly different encounter. Black paint on a gold background, it reads: 'I went to Africa. I went to the motherland to find my roots! Right? Seven million black people! Not one of those motherfuckers knew me.'

Ligon's work is included in the Obamas' choice of artworks currently on loan to the White House, making him the youngest artist ever to be exhibited there. He is also the latest recipient of the Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize. Ligon's work has been the subject of exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe. Recent solo exhibitions have taken place at the Power Plant, Toronto (2005); the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2001); the Kunstverein München, Germany (2001), the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2000); the St Louis Art Museum (2000); the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (1998); and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1996). His work is represented in many public collections including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Tate Modern, London; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

For more information about the FOREX project series, click here.

Ligon will exhibit concurrently with Anton Kannemeyer and Zanele Muholi. The exhibitions open on Thursday 22 April, 6-8pm. The three artists will take part in a public discussion around race, politics and related issues in their works at the gallery on Friday 23 April at 1pm; all are welcome.

Works courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles.