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Last Weekend to see Glenn Ligon: AMERICA at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Malcolm X, Version 1, by Glenn Ligon, 2000

Malcolm X, Version 1, by Glenn Ligon, 2000

Glenn Ligon: AMERICA
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Thru Sunday, June 3, 2012

This is the last weekend to see Glenn Ligon: AMERICA at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The exhibit closes Sunday, June 3, 2012. I highly recommend catching this one before it gets away.

I just recently got to see the works from this wonderful exhibit. Not knowing what to expect from artist Glenn Ligon, I was somewhat taken aback by the upfront racial issues presented in the works. But that only lasted a moment and then I really started to enjoy the show.

Up the stairs and before you enter the main gallery is a portrait, Malcolm X (Version 1). It holds the place of honor as being your first taste of AMERICA. The portrait reminded me of both a Warhol screen print and a child’s used coloring book. It is a sold representation of Malcolm X with the sharp black drawing, but then it get sloppy as the coloring is clearly done outside this lines.

Inside the exhibit there are a number of typography paintings. They all have a message to tell. Some of the paintings start with black text on white canvas with the same phrase repeated over and over while the lettering is getting darker and sloppier. The first series of paintings contain the following repeated phrases:

Self-Portrait by Glenn Ligon, 1996

Self-Portrait by Glenn Ligon, 1996

  • I am not tragically colored
  • I do not always feel colored
  • I remember the very day that I became colored
  • I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background
  • I was somebody
  • I am somebody
  • I’m turning into a specter before your very eyes and I’m going to haunt you
  • Wrong nigga to fuck with
  • I lost my voice I found my voice
  • Passing

The message and the typography paintings continue with other works with black type on black backgrounds and white type on white backgrounds. With these works Ligon has built up the thickness of the lettering to stand off the canvas. So were so thick with paint that the media resembled crushed Oreo cookies.

I had to get up close and look at an angle to read what the work was saying. And maybe that is the point that we should look at everything, white or black, at a different angle.

The works that I really enjoyed were Ligon’s five self portraits he did in 1996. Four of the portraits were the back of his head with one portrait in profile. I have to say that Ligon is a handsome man. But what really attracted me to these works was the screen printing technique exhibited by each. A close up look reveals the thousands of white dots on a black background that make up each portrait. A more distant view blends the white dots and black background perfectly in my eyes.

Toward the end of the exhibit there were more works like Malcolm X. These too were print to appear as large coloring book pages with color added outside the lines. Another message? Maybe.

Rückenfigur by Glenn Ligon, 2009

Rückenfigur by Glenn Ligon, 2009

Coming up the back hallway I see Rückenfigur, 2009. This is a large neon sign spelling America with a backwards E, R and C. Maybe all the letters are backwards. Who knows? The neon sign almost looks like America can be read forwards and backwards like a palindrome. But it can’t and maybe that’s the problem.

The next room has another version of America in neon with the letters all in black and only the light being cast on the wall. The last version is all black with very little light escaping the black paint that is covering the neon. I had to venture to the walkway above the Modern’s reception desk to catch the last neon sign, Warm Broad Glow II, which read as negro sunshine.

The last room, which is not for children, is a series of images from Robert Mapplethorpe’s Black Book, 1986. The display is from Ligon’s Notes on the Margin of the Black Book, which first premiered at the Whitney Museum in 1993. Ligon presents every page of the book with panels quoting Mapplethorpe’s book, the AIDS crisis, race, sexuality and art.

Notes on the Margin of the Black Book by Glenn Ligon, 1993

Notes on the Margin of the Black Book by Glenn Ligon, 1993

I have to say that Notes on the Margin of the Black Book may have been the icing on the cake. I don’t have any issues looking a nude figures, white or black, male or female. If presented properly, the human body is a work of art all on its own as a nude, still life or landscape. Admittedly, I really only looked at the Mapplethorpe photographs. The lighting, shading, tonality, muscles, poses and scenery were too much for me to look away and read the quote panels.

This was a wonderful exhibit and I hope you get the chance to see Glenn Ligon: AMERICA at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

While you are in town, I might also recommend Sargent’s Youthful Genius: Paintings from the Clark at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Clark at the Kimbell Art Museum. Both of these exhibits close Sunday, June 17, 2012.

About M. C. Roman

M. C. Roman, owner and managing editor of Dallas Art News, is a painter, printmaker and photographer. He is a graduate of Southern Methodist University. M. C.'s art can be viewed at Social media friends can find M. C. on Facebook at

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