Let me speak first of the surface of the Moon, which is turned towards us… I distinguish two parts in it, which I call respectively the brighter and the darker. The brighter part seems to surround and pervade the whole hemisphere; but the darker part, like a sort of cloud, discolors the Moon's surface and makes it appear covered with spots…These spots have never been observed by anyone before me; and from my observations of them, often repeated…I feel sure that the surface of the Moon is not perfectly smooth, free from inequalities and exactly spherical…but that, on the contrary, it is full of inequalities, uneven, full of hollow and protuberances, just like the surface of the Earth itself.
Rat Hole Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition of new work by Glenn Ligon on view from December 20, 2019 until March 14, 2020. The exhibition marks Ligon’s second solo show at the gallery. On view is an installation of new sculptural works made by the artist in Japan, a series of new drawings, and Ligon’s Self Portrait (2002)—shown for the first time since the artist’s major retrospective Glenn Ligon: America at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2011, which travelled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 2011, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in 2012.
For In A Year with a Black Moon, Ligon presents a series of sculptures based on moon jars (called lantern jars in Japanese), a type of traditional Korean white porcelain ceramics made during the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910) whose name comes from its shape and milky glaze. Instead of using white porcelain, Ligon has created black moon jars through an intricate process that transforms the white clay into black vessels. The sculptures, consisting of two hemispherical halves that have been joined together in the middle, have a slightly uneven natural shape, attesting to a Joseon aesthetic sensibility that appreciated naturalism, spontaneity and the beauty of deformity over rigid perfection. Yanagi Soetsu, the founder of the Mingei (Folk Crafts) movement talks of the freedom found in Korean pots, compared to Japanese ones: "In modern art, the beauty of deformity is very often emphasized, insisted upon. But how different is Korean deformity. The former is produced deliberately, the latter naturally. Korean work is merely the natural result of the artisan's state of mind, which is free from dualistic man-made rules." In exploring the formal and conceptual possibilities of moon jars over a unique spectrum of black color and textures, his work expands the boundaries of traditional ceramics. For Ligon, this body of work was led by the desire to create a black vessel that exists as an object of beauty and as a carrier of cultural and social critique.
Together with these sculptural works, Ligon presents a suite of Study for Negro Sunshine drawings produced in oil stick which repeat the phrase “negro sunshine,” a fragment of text from Gertude Stein’s 1909 novel “Three Lives.” Spanning over a decade, this series was shown in Japan at the artist’s first show at Rat Hole Gallery in 2013. For this exhibition, instead of black texts on white backgrounds, the artist has used a vibrant red hue in the new works.
Self Portrait (2002) is from Ligon’s series of works about James Baldwin’s essay "Stranger in the Village" painted in black oil stick through letter stencils. With each overlapping stenciled layer the letters on the canvas become increasingly smudged and illegible. This work, made from a failed painting which the artist had begun to scrape down but then became intrigued with the multiple scratches and traces of letters visible on the surface, initiates an intimate dialogue with the other works in the exhibition, reflecting on the nature of quotation, collaboration and cross cultural dialogue.
Ligon’s painting, drawing, and sculptural works in the exhibition together wholly demonstrate the artist’s approach towards and interest in the force of language, the multiplicities of meanings across generations, and shifting notions of identity and the self in relation to culture and history.
Glenn Ligon (b. 1960, New York, USA) lives and works New York. Since the 1980s, Ligon has pursued an incisive exploration of American history, literature, and society across bodies of work that build on modern and conceptual art. Solo exhibitions include Des Parisiens Noirs, Musée d’Orsay, France (2019); and Glenn Ligon: America, Whitney Museum of American Art (2011); The Power Plant, Toronto (2005); The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2001); Kunstverein, Munich (2001); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2000); and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (1998). Curatorial projects include Blue Black, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, St. Louis (2017); and Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions, Nottingham Contemporary and Tate Liverpool (2015). Major international exhibitions include the Istanbul Biennal (2019), Venice Biennale (2015 and 1997), Berlin Biennal (2014), Istanbul Biennial (2011), and Documenta XI (2002).