Glenn Ligon: AMERICA

Mar 10–June 5, 2011

Glenn Ligon: AMERICA is the first comprehensive mid-career retrospective devoted to this pioneering New York–based artist. Throughout his career, Ligon (b. 1960) has pursued an incisive exploration of American history, literature, and society across a body of work that builds critically on the legacies of modern painting and more recent conceptual art. He is best known for his landmark series of text-based paintings, made since the late 1980s, which draw on the writings and speech of diverse figures including Jean Genet, Zora Neale Hurston, Jesse Jackson, and Richard Pryor. Ligon’s subject matter ranges widely from the Million Man March and the aftermath of slavery to 1970s coloring books and the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe—all treated within artworks that are both politically provocative and beautiful to behold. 

This exhibition features roughly one hundred works, including paintings, prints, photography, drawings, and sculptural installations, as well as striking recent neon reliefs, one newly commissioned for the Whitney’s Madison Avenue windows. Ligon’s most iconic works will be presented alongside previously unexhibited early paintings and drawings, which will shed new light on his artistic origins. The exhibition is accompanied by an amply illustrated catalogue that examines Ligon’s working methods in the context of American culture more broadly. Yourself in the World, a companion volume published by the Whitney and Yale University Press, collects Ligon’s lively interviews and trenchant essays on topics ranging from pop culture and the work of young artists to the first post-Katrina Biennial in New Orleans.

Glenn Ligon: AMERICA is organized by Whitney curator Scott Rothkopf. The exhibition travels to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the fall of 2011 and to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in early 2012.

Major support for Glenn Ligon: AMERICA is provided by the National Committee of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Significant support is provided by Candy and Michael Barasch; The Broad Art Foundation; Lise and Michael Evans; Miyoung Lee and Neil Simpkins; The Maurice Marciano Family Foundation; Agnes Gund; Tony Salamé: Aïshti foundation; the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; Barbara and Richard Lane; Gregory R. Miller and Michael Wiener; Charles and Nathalie de Gunzburg; Rodney M. Miller Sr.; Lenore and Adam Sender; Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn; Steven Latner, Michael Latner, and H. A. Latner; and an anonymous donor.


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Audio guides

This audio guide, introduced by Alice Pratt Brown Director Adam D. Weinberg, highlights a diverse range of works from the exhibition Glenn Ligon: AMERICA. Artist Glenn Ligon, exhibition curator Scott Rothkopf, and Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, provide additional commentary.

View guide

Explore works from this exhibition
in the Whitney's collection

View 18 works

In the News

Review: “Sometimes a career survey doubles as a scan of social history. This is true of Glenn Ligon’s retrospective at the Whitney.”
The New York Times

Review: "rescues a star of the era of identity politics from a blind spot in the present art world"
The New Yorker

“the rare tour de force that is as rich in ideas as it is in its wondrous mix of materials. Consider this a must-see.”

“Art that Transcends ‘Black’ and ‘Gay’”
The Root

“The Inside Story on Outsiderness”
The New York Times

Interactive: Curator Scott Rothkopf narrates a look at several works in the exhibition
The New York Times

"Although deeply pointed and courageous, Ligon’s artistic voice is more subtle than strident, more investigative than declarative, the breadth of his subject matter matched by the wide range of mediums he employs."

Glenn Ligon: AMERICA is named a must-see for 2011
The Huffington Post

Interview with the artist
Financial Times

"not to be missed this spring"

"Glenn Ligon: America brings into clear focus this New York native’s work"
WNET Sunday Arts

An interview with exhibition curator Scott Rothkopf
Art in America

The Approval Matrix: "Ligon's identity-politics art ages well"
New York

Review: "an elegant mid-career retrospective"
Financial Times

Review: "[Curator Scott Rothkopf] gives the artist’s work the magisterial treatment it deserves."
Time Out New York