(By K Alshanetsky ’17)
Renowned conceptual artist Glenn Ligon ’82 recently curated an exhibition titled Blue Black for the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri. The group show, which had its opening day on June 9, was inspired by the Pulitzer’s permanent installation of Blue Black, a wall sculpture by Ellsworth Kelly. In Ligon’s take on the variety of meanings and uses of these two colors, he explores the combination as a means to raise nuanced questions about race, history, identity and memory. Choosing works that respond to the theme of the blues in open-ended ways, he draws numerous points of connection among a diverse selection of more than 40 pieces, ranging from Abstract Expressionism and portraiture to African and American folk art.
The show features work from artists including Norman Lewis, Andy Warhol, Kerry James Marshall and Carrie Mae Weems, and also includes well-known works by Ligon himself. While he initially traveled to St. Louis intending to propose his own solo exhibition, Ligon spoke to The New York Times about how the visit lead him to take the project in a new direction:
“When I was in the building, the Ellsworth Kelly is massive,” he said. “I had this very funny aural hallucination where I kept hearing Louis Armstrong’s voice singing ‘What did I do to be so black and blue?’”
A list of artists who have used this combination began forming in his head. David Hammons’s “Concerto in Black and Blue” and Chris Ofili’s “Blue Rider” series, the subjects of essays by Mr. Ligon, came to mind immediately.
As he developed the exhibition––a simultaneous “investigation of color and shape” and his own “luminous meditation on racial violence”––Ligon made a concerted effort to be flexible about how the works he included related to the original theme:
“I thought, it can’t just be work that has blue and black in it. Derek Jarman’s film [“Blue,” released in 1993, months before his death] is monochromatic, literally a blue screen, and you hear actors reading from Jarman’s diary. He was going blind and eventually died of AIDS complications. So, metaphorically, blackness is in there. I want the show to be expansive in that way.”
Asked if and how the exhibition itself becomes an artwork, he mused:
“An artwork is an arrangement of things. The ideal show for me would be if everything touched, literally touched, so that everything would blur together. It’s much easier to talk to one another if you’re in close proximity.”