how can artists learn from their public?
In 1999, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota invited Ligon to lead a family workshop during a residency at the museum. The artist, whose work often explores his identity and the larger politics around being black and gay, brought copies of coloring books for African American children from the 1960s and 1970s. A black girl in a graduation gown, singer-songwriter Isaac Hayes, bell-bottom clad figures with the word “soul” printed under them: these images had originally been made with the intention of fostering pride in African American culture.
When Ligon presented the coloring books to the group of young children, the message of empowerment morphed into one of absurdity. Stemming from a range of ethnic backgrounds, the middle class kids at the Walker Art Center were oblivious to the cultural references they scribbled upon. Hayes was given peach skin and a blond beard, Malcolm X was gussied up in pink lipstick and blue eye shadow, reminiscent of a drag queen. Intrigued by how the images in these coloring books meant something different to kids in Minneapolis at the turn of the millennium, Ligon used the resulting drawings as the foundation for his silkscreen-on-canvas Coloring series.
What Ligon’s project demonstrates is that an artist can have new, profound experiences by working directly with the audience. With this is mind, I talked to artists Las Hermanas Iglesias and Kara Hearn about how they include the public in their artmaking practices, both in developing projects and how they evaluate the projects afterwards.
Over at A Blade of Grass, I explore how artists can learn from their audiences.
comparative imagery: crate and barrel.
When I was an intern, I witnessed the crating of Eva Hesse’s No Title, currently on view at the Whitney. Straps supported the latex-covered rope, slings cradled the fragile, already-cracking surface—all working to fight to ominous and inevitable force that is gravity. Crates are essential to the support, protection, and careful transportation of cultural relics, but in these works, the crate is the artwork.
Sam Collins, Sometimes the Journey is Better than the Destination, 2010 (source)
Glenn Ligon, To Disembark, 1993 (source and source)
Richard Artschwager, title, year (source)
comparative imagery: some lights.
Glenn Ligon and neon Krispy Kreme sign (source)
Dan Flavin and fluorescent office lights (source)
Jenny Holzer and Lite Brite (source)
more extended captions coming shortly!
comparative imagery: bilateral symmetry, or lack thereof.
Leonardo da Vinci, Vitruvian Man, circa 1487 (source)
Edward Ruscha, Lion in Oil, 2002 (source)
Glenn Ligon, Rückenfigur, 2009 (source)
comparative imagery: a series.
Any faithful reader of this blog knows that my posts are often excruciatingly verbose. Well, I often have a lot to say, and I say it with words.
Thus, you may have been relieved to find that there were very little words in my last post. I was trying out an idea for a series, and after getting feedback from a few fans (thanks C, D, and E!) I’ve decided to make it official. My series is called Comparative Imagery, and what I do is present various images side-by-side. The goal is twofold. First, I choose images that hopefully will inform the other(s); in my last post, the picture of the slave tags and binary code were supposed to help y’all make some sense of the Glenn Ligon painting they were flanking. At the same time, I firmly believe that there is no one interpretation of any image. I’m hoping that each person will come up with her or his own interpretations, rather than me just telling you what I think.
And as always, it makes me incredibly happy to hear your take on things. If you have a brilliant insight or even the most trivial observation, please share, because it makes the dialogue all the more interesting. For example, the post reminded commenter dT of Charles Demuth’s I Saw the Figure Five in Gold, which is based on a short ‘n’ William Carlos Williams poem. Maybe it was Ligon’s repetition of numbers, maybe the red, that got him evoked this image. I love how in both the Ligon and the Demuth, the artists relie a stencil-like typeface, something you’d see on a sign rather than on a handwritten document. Thanks for getting me thinking, dT.
Look forward to more Comparative Imagery in the future.
comparative imagery: numbers.
1) Copper slave tags (source)
2) Glenn Ligon, Untitled (Numbers), 1991, gouache, oilstick and graphite on paper (source)
3) Binary (source)
Full size, so you can better appreciate Ligon’s painting.