Glenn Ligon: AMERICA

Solo en Inglès

This audio guide, introduced by Alice Pratt Brown Director Adam D. Weinberg, highlights a diverse range of works from the exhibition Glenn Ligon: AMERICA. Artist Glenn Ligon, exhibition curator Scott Rothkopf, and Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, provide additional commentary.

Glenn Ligon, Runaways, 1993

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Narrator: This series of lithographs, Runaways, began with Ligon’s study of nineteenth-century advertisements for runaway slaves, written by slave owners.

Glenn Ligon: The descriptions were quite detailed: "He laughs a lot when he talks," or, "He can play the French horn," which seem to me unnecessary if you're just describing the return of a person who is your property. And the elaborateness of those descriptions seemed to speak to a complicated relationship between master and slaveholder.

Narrator: Ligon asked ten friends to describe him as if they were filing a “missing persons” report. He presented their descriptions in prints seeking a run-away named Glenn. Like the slave owners, Ligon’s friends paint a picture that is both generic—he is five feet eight inches tall—and oddly idiosyncratic. When Glenn walks, for example, “his feet cross each other a little bit.”

The works are funny and disturbing. With a light touch, Ligon confronts the issue of slavery and brings it into our own time. He suggests that it remains a powerful undercurrent in American society.

A lithograph of a runaway slave with the text "Ran away, Glenn, a black male, 5'8", very short hair cut, nearly completely shaved, stocky build, 155-165 lbs., medium complexion (not "light-skinned," not "dark skinned," slightly orange). Wearing faded blue jeans, short sleeve button-down 50's style shirt, nice glasses (small, oval shaped), no socks. Very articulate, seemingly well-educated, does not look at you straight in the eye when talking to you. He's socially very adept, yet, paradoxically, he's somewhat of a loner."

Narrator: This series of lithographs, Runaways, began with Ligon’s study of nineteenth-century advertisements for runaway slaves, written by slave owners.

Glenn Ligon: The descriptions were quite detailed: "He laughs a lot when he talks," or, "He can play the French horn," which seem to me unnecessary if you're just describing the return of a person who is your property. And the elaborateness of those descriptions seemed to speak to a complicated relationship between master and slaveholder.

Narrator: Ligon asked ten friends to describe him as if they were filing a “missing persons” report. He presented their descriptions in prints seeking a run-away named Glenn. Like the slave owners, Ligon’s friends paint a picture that is both generic—he is five feet eight inches tall—and oddly idiosyncratic. When Glenn walks, for example, “his feet cross each other a little bit.”

The works are funny and disturbing. With a light touch, Ligon confronts the issue of slavery and brings it into our own time. He suggests that it remains a powerful undercurrent in American society.


Glenn Ligon, Runaways, 1993 (detail). Suite of ten lithographs. 16 × 12 in. (40.6 × 30.5 cm each). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of the Peter Norton Family Foundation © Glenn Ligon; Digital Image © Whitney Museum of American Art