Glenn Ligon Tour at de la Cruz Art Gallery
Albey Miner, director and chief curator of the de la Cruz Gallery at Georgetown University, led ArtTable members on a tour of the most recent exhibition Glenn Ligon: To be a Negro in this country is really never to be looked at. He discussed Georgetown’s Jesuit identity as an inspiration for the strong presence of social justice in the art that the gallery chooses to exhibit. The gallery has no permanent collection, and instead runs on the museum model of borrowing works to exhibit.
Most of the works in this exhibition are from Glenn Ligon’s own personal collection and are being exhibited for the first time. The Bronx-born artist was featured in a 2011 Whitney Museum Retrospective, and has engaged with prominent artistic figures such as Andy Warhol and James Baldwin throughout his career. In this exhibition, the largest wall in the gallery is covered in an Andy Warhol-designed wallpaper with a sketch of the Washington Monument. The image, created by Warhol for a 1974 arts festival in Washington D.C., is on loan from the Andy Warhol Museum. Five pieces out of a series of six of Ligon’s black and white Grey Hands adorn this wall. Incorporating imagery from the Million Man March in Washington, DC, these works were forgotten until 2016 when Ligon decided they functioned much better in that year than when they were made in 1996.
Ligon creates compelling works that engage the viewer, especially as many have no protective glass, encouraging the viewer to come close and inspect the pieces for themselves. One such work addresses James Baldwin’s essay “Stranger in the Village” about being the first black man to visit a small town in the Swiss Alps had ever seen. A book of Baldwin’s writing was opened to this essay and left out on his desk for 20 years; the piece incorporates both the first and last page of the 17-page story, showing the passage of time not only in the story but in Ligon’s career at large.