The starting point here is Ligon’s Untitled 2006, a neon sculpture coated with black paint spelling out the word ‘AMERICA’ in large capital letters. Commenting on the paradox of blocking neon light with black, Ligon has said: ‘There is this sense that America, for all its dark deeds, is still this shining light.’
In its orbit are artworks like Robert Morris’s Untitled 1967-8, remade 2008 and, expanding the history of American art, Sam Gilliam’s Simmering 1970 – an important work by an under-represented African-American artist. Ligon has spoken about how the works selected ‘have different degrees of proximity’ to his own practice, but together they illustrate what he himself has referred to as the ‘encounters and clashes’ fuelling the ‘creative process’.
A personal art history and snap-shot of post-war American culture, colour as well as social concerns interweave through a trajectory that extends from the stark abstraction of Ad Reinhardt’s Abstract Painting No.5 1962, to Ligon’s own darkly glowing neon, via the illuminating urban reportage of Bruce Davidson, whose Untitled, Subway, New York, early 1980s 1980 shows passengers against the back drop of a graffitied subterranean world, evoking the urgency of Franz Kline’s abstract expressionist canvas. The constellation takes on and reflects themes that the artist has extracted from his experience of American culture, society and its citizens.
The works in this constellation were originally part of Glenn Ligon’s group exhibition Encounters and Collisions (30 June – 18 October 2015), on our fourth floor