Encounters & Collisions, Glenn Ligon at Nottingham Contemporary

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There’s a tiny embroidery by Alighiero e Boetti just inside gallery four that lends its title to that of the exhibition.  Boetti who famously added the ‘and’ to his name to indicate his dual personas and trailed it out into a whole series of contradictory positions is a seminal fellow traveller for the curator of what is essentially a group show.  Though Glenn Ligon‘s name is on the tin he imposes his own works but lightly in this event.  It was just momentarily a tad disappointing as I’ve seen relatively few of his ‘signature’ black text paintings in the flesh from a decade or so back. That said there are two representative and rather magnificent examples included here.

But overall this format provides riches a plenty.  The dualities are evident everywhere but perhaps the most significant and certainly the one that played out mightily in those early pictures is the continuing tussle between the desire to make substantive social comment against that of someone in thrall to a love of high modernism.  This leads to the full on collisions such as between a felt piece by Robert Morris cheek by jowl with Steve McQueen‘s seminal early work Bear.  These encounters and collisions enable us to experience quite disparate works that might never fetch up together again but the prism through which one is viewing them is entirely consistent with Ligon’s view of the world in which he has lived, the work into which he has delved and the wider sociopolitical contexts of our times.   It is both deliciously consistent and contradictory.

There were works I’d not previously seen and of course one’s well known to many but here given a fresh and distinctive context…that Franz Kline from the Tate looking very splendid given more space to breathe for example.  Amongst those few works I didn’t know was one that spoke very powerfully to several of Ligon’s underlying concerns Dave McKenzie (whose work in the 2014 Whitney Biennial I must have overlooked) harrowing video Babble in which a young man (the artist?) repeatedly stuffs a microphone into his mouth and tries to speak but gags and splutters. This powerful metaphor for the contemporary condition in the media saturated age especially still for many young black Americans spoke volumes and in an open ended questioning way that quite a few of the other works either didn’t or did so more didactically and ultimately perhaps a little less satisfactorily.  Overall this was one of NC’s best offerings to date as though a compendium of diverse material (like so many other shows over these past few years) this one hangs compellingly on a vision, that although eclectic like most of us, is that of an artist with plenty to say.

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