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May 02 2011

Visit the Whitney

The museum has two great exhibitions on right now.

I went for “Breaking Ground,” which features works from the museum’s founding collection – some of which are very good, and all of which combine to provide an interesting peek into the American art world in which Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney circulated. The exhibition includes a couple of Ms. Whitney’s own works, including her very cool sculpture of herself in a stance and style typical of Eastern sculpture — and of the Buddha — featured in the first room of the exhibition.

I stayed for “Glenn Ligon: America,” a varied, often unsettling, occasionally darkly humorous collection of Ligon’s works that speak to his experience growing up black and gay in the US of A. The exhibition includes many examples of Ligon’s work with text, his lurid colored paintings of black figures (historic and otherwise) and his reworking of stories and quotes and his own poetry (although he may not refer to it as such) in the format of posters once used to advertise lost slaves.

A single room is dedicated to Ligon’s exploration of Mapplethorpe’s Black Book, titled Notes on the Margins of the Black Book (1991–1993), an incredibly powerful and thought-provoking work. (I wish it were available in an accordion book, so I could digest it slowly and on repeat visits. It would take much time to process the conflicting ideas Ligon has captured. There’s a PhD thesis wrapped up in there.)

Among my favorite pieces on display were those text-based works that proclaimed, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” There was something both uncomfortable and triumphant about the makeup of those viewing the exhibition — largely white folks milling through a space filled with one man’s notions about what it means to be black.

Go see the show. It’s good. And it’s only here through June 5.

Also, the Whitney is an amazing, wonderful space. I hadn’t been in a while. I’d forgotten how great it is.

(Images of Ligon’s works via and via and via and via and via)

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