Glenn Ligon: Post Prelude

Edition Review

  • Glenn Ligon, Notes on the Prelude (2012)

  • Aquatint with drypoint, image 16 x 12 inches, paper 21 1/2 x 17 inches. Edition of 35. Printed and published by Burnet Editions, New York. $1900.
Glenn Ligon, Notes on the Prelude (2012).

Glenn Ligon, Notes on the Prelude (2012).

Notes on the Prelude is the third in a new body of intaglio prints, following Draft (2010) (Burnet Editions) and Dispatches (2011) (Thomas Dane Gallery.) Together, the three represent a new operative strategy for Ligon: all re-use stencils from earlier artworks to create new compositions in which text does not govern form and the composition remains free of lines and grids. Notes on the Prelude employs stenciled, aquatinted letter-forms that recall the density of Jasper Johns and the linear written forms of Cy Twombly, and that foil attempts to read for content.

Much of Ligon’s previous work relied on appropriated texts drawn from sources that ranged from Jean Genet to James Baldwin and comedian Richard Pryor. By reframing these texts, he repositions them to operate within both cultural and political spheres, In Notes on the Prelude, there is no such particular quotation; instead, Ligon pulls from his own stylistic history, employing the stenciled letters that he has used since the late 1980s. In doing so, Ligon points out how the appropriation strategies of the past 30 years have become codified, and suggests that a new strategy is necessary.

Materially, the print is masterful: only through intaglio could Ligon have achieved the rich blacks and deep impressions that resemble his previous bodies of work—such as the Stranger paintings, which included coal dust atop the oil stick.

The mirroring of many of the letterforms in Notes on the Prelude alludes to the reversals inherent in printing, as well as to Ligon’s 2009 Rückenfigur, in which each of the letters of “AMERICA” is reversed, but the word is spelled in non-reversed order. Since the A, M and I are vertically symmetrical, the gesture is only recognizable in the letters E, R and C. Rückenfigur plays with the act of reading, muddying the distinction between language and symbol.

Notes on the Prelude was titled after a 2002-2004 exhibition by Canadian artist Stephen Andrews, “The 1st part of the 2nd half,” the culmination of Andrews’ twenty-year investigation into portraiture and loss, photography and memory, specific to the AIDS crisis. The way in which the exhibition addressed Andrews’ own social and artistically history was influential on Ligon. Notes on the Prelude also comes some twenty years after Ligon’s first solo exhibitions in New York. It is interesting to note that, at White Columns in 1991, his exhibition featured multiple paintings, all from the Prologue series, and some parenthetically titled (peculiar disposition) or Invisible Man (Black Version). If Notes on the Prelude alludes to a similarly considered twenty-year period as did the Prologue paintings, we’re in luck.


Notes on the Prelude is the first benefit edition offered by the New York non-profit Visual AIDS.

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