New School News

Illuminating a Student Space with Glenn Ligon

Glenn Ligon. Photo by David Seidner, 2012; photo courtesy of Luhring Augustine Gallery.

Best known for his text-based works, conceptual artist Glenn Ligon rethinks, reimagines, and remixes pre-existing texts exploring subjects like race, sexuality, language, and history in various media.  And, as The New School recently commissioned him for his first site-specific work in New York, Ligon will soon embark on his most ambitious project to date—a permanent text feature for the walls of the Event Café in the new University Center.

Scheduled to open in the winter of 2014, the Event Café will act as a thoroughfare, meeting place, and performance venue for the new University Center. Ligon’s installation appropriates verses from Walt Whitman’s iconic poetry collection Leaves of Grass, and places them along the top of the café’s walls, illuminating the space with 400 feet of neon text.  Ligon renders anew Whitman’s bold musings of New York City, the body, and the state of being.  “Ligon, like Whitman, deals with the body politic in his work” says New School Art Collection curator Silvia Rocciolo. “His use of Whitman’s contested verses invites us to consider our past while placing us squarely in the present moment, asking us to reflect on our role and place as individuals and as a political body in a democratic society. ”

Whitman’s poetry posed provocative questions in the 19th century, and 150 years since its publication, Leaves of Grass retains its power to challenge contemporary culture. In an article for the New York Times, Ligon explained that in selecting the text he “was mostly thinking about ‘encountering strangers, the life of the street, desiring bodies—something for students to think about when they are tired of thinking of their GPA.’”

Ligon is best known for works that investigate the mutability of language, text, and representation through the use of quotes from authors and historic figures such as Mary Shelley, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin. His work has been shown internationally, selected for the National Gallery, and chosen for President Obama’s White House Art Collection.  In March, 2011, a mid-career retrospective, Glenn Ligon: AMERICA, opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art and traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. His current exhibition, Neon, runs through January 19, 2013, at Luhring Augustine Gallery in Chelsea.

The university has a longstanding history of promoting new art in public spaces, beginning in 1931 when works by Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco and Ecuadorian artist Camilo Egas were commissioned. More recent commissions include site-specific works by Sol Le Witt, Kara Walker, Brian Tolle, Martin Puryear and Michael Van Valkenburgh. The New School Art Collection was established in 1960 with donations from the Albert A. List Foundation, and has since grown to approximately 1,900 contemporary works of art reflective of the university’s progressive ideals and mission towards public engagement. The collection, curated by Silvia Rocciolo and Eric Stark, contains works by some of the most creative and innovative artists working today.

For more information on The New School Art Collection and other permanent, site-specific works, please visit the web page.

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