‘GLENN LIGON: AMERICA’ opened in 2011 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, then located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Before entering the museum, visitors to Glenn Ligon‘s mid-career retrospective were greeted by “Warm Broad Glow II” (2011), installed in the front window, facing Madison Avenue.

Lighting up the wealthy, overwhelmingly white New York City corridor with the term “negro sunshine,” the neon work was a beacon, by turns inviting and discomforting depending on your perspective, your family origins, your American experience.

 


GLENN LIGON, Installation view of “Warm Broad Glow II,” 2011 (neon, paint, and metal support, 29 x 242 x 4 ⅝ inches / 74 x 615 x 12 cm), Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Md. | © Glenn Ligon

 

“Warm Broad Glow II” was acquired by Glenstone Museum. Located in Potomac, Md., the tony property blends blue-chip art and minimalist architecture with natural landscapes.

The work debuted in May, when the museum reopened after being closed to due the COVID-19 pandemic. The neon is on view in The Pavilions, displayed in an expansive window that looks out on an 18,000 square foot “water court” featuring plant life that changes seasonally. At night, “negro sunshine,” spelled out in a typeface called American Typewriter, reflects off the water’s surface.

Beautifully framed by the plantings, water feature, and the architectural lines of the building, the presentation’s tranquil vibe stands in stark contrast to the density and fast pace of New York City. Nonetheless, the context remains largely the same. Glenstone, like the Whitney, is a traditional art space at its core. A decade later, the installation is still jarring and wonderful.

LANGUAGE IS A GUIDING FORCE in the practice of New York-based Ligon. His work explores American history and the African American experience through the lens of politics and culture and also from a personal perspective. Literature by James Baldwin, Gertrude Stein, Ralph Ellison, Walt Whitman, and Zora Neale Hurston has inspired his work. The artist has also drawn on Richard Pryor’s stand up, fugitive slave advertisements, and signs carried by striking sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968.

Ligon’s output spans painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, and installation. He is best known for his text and speech-based paintings and neon works, including “Warm Broad Glow II.”

The work was inspired by the writing of Stein. In her 1909 novella “Three Lives,” Stein uses the term “negro sunshine” and the phrase “warm broad glow.” Ligon recently visited Glenstone to see the installation of the neon text work. He made a video sharing the backstory for the work’s concept and development and citing the relevant passage by Stein.

“It’s in the section called Melanctha where she’s talking about the life of a Black woman character,” Ligon said before reading from the novella:

    Rose Johnson was a real black negress but she had been brought up quite like their own child by white folks. Rose laughed when she was happy, but she had not the wide abandoned laughter that makes the warm broad glow of negro sunshine. Rose was never joyous with the earth-born, boundless joy of negroes. Hers was just ordinary, any sort of woman laughter.

“It’s brutal. But, there’s a gem in there: ‘negro sunshine.’ It’s not unconnected with the stereotypical depictions of Black people, but taken out of that context it has a totally different kind of connotation and meaning and resonance,” Ligon said.

“Black joy exists, now and historically, despite the history of this country. There is such as thing as ‘negro sunshine,’ ‘negro joy,’ ‘Black joy.’ And that feels very of-the-moment, even though that text is 100 years old.” CT

 

FIND MORE “It’s Always a Little Bit Not Yet,” a solo exhibition of Glenn Ligon is on view at Hauser & Wirth New York, from Nov. 16-Dec. 23, 2021

 

FIND MORE At Glenstone, The Pavilions features rooms dedicated to single-artist installations. Works by Arthur Jafa and Lorna Simpson from the museum’s collection are currently on view in these galleries

 


Artist Glenn Ligon visits Glenstone Museum with co-founder, director, and chief curator Emily Rales to see the installation of his neon work “Warm Broad Glow II” (2011). | Video by Glenstone Museum

 

BOOKSHELF
“Glenn Ligon: Work, Work, Work, Work, Work, Work,” a new publication from Hauser & Wirth, coincides with the artist’s current solo exhibition with the gallery in New York. “Glenn Ligon: AMERICA” documents the artist’s mid-career survey organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art. “Glenn Ligon: Untitled (America)/Debris Field/Synecdoche/Notes for a Poem on the Third World” documents a 2019 exhibition at Regen Projects in Los Angeles and includes a poem by Robin Coste Lewis, essay by Helen Molesworth, and a conversation between the artist and Hamza Walker. “Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions” was published to coincide with a London exhibition presented at Nottingham Contemporary and Tate Liverpool. “Yourself in the World: Selected Writings and Interviews” features a collection of writings by Glenn Ligon. A ruled journal is covered by his “I Am a Man” work, which was inspired by the signs carried by striking sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968.

 

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