Originally posted on Unframed The LACMA Blog:
“Past is never dead. It’s not even past.”—William Faulkner
Black-on-black commentary is only slightly an inside story. For under the halo of “Negro Sunshine,” at the entrance to Glenn Ligon: AMERICA, I experienced moments of real cultural nostalgia. My mother and the dream book and the endless numbers racket, with its weird logic and odd asymmetrical poetry, were somehow lodged in Glenn Ligon’s magical series of numbered paintings. Apart from the unusually personal in Ligon’s piercing vision, conceptualism—that somewhat elusive creature—seems to find its most complete expression in his oeuvre. Ligon is prepared to stream unflinchingly through various media, extracting elegantly exquisite beauty swathed in a tireless drama of inventions. Here the iniquities of history are refracted and recast. The heroes and heroines are unknown, enfeebled, and lost in time. Irony is legible and graphic, taking the form of a children’s coloring book. He places specificity within our universal American culture and, in doing so, subjects all of us—black and white—to the same memories, more or less. Ligon’s mid-career retrospective directly confronts the not-so-paradoxical complexity of the black male—its frightening history, its Dionysian beauty, its sexuality, its homoeroticism, its fearless honesty, and its dubiously artful texture as America’s existential fall guy.