Glenn Ligon

Glenn Ligon was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1960. Ligon’s paintings and sculptures examine cultural and social identity through found sources—literature, Afrocentric coloring books, photographs—to reveal the ways in which the history of slavery, the civil rights movement, and sexual politics inform our understanding of American society. Ligon appropriates texts from a variety of literary writers including Walt Whitman, Zora Neal Hurston, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison, as well from more popular sources such as the comedian Richard Pryor.

In Ligon’s paintings, the instability of his medium—oil crayon used with letter stencils—transforms the texts he quotes, making them abstract, difficult to read, and layered in meaning, much like the subject matter that he appropriates. In other works that feature silkscreen, neon, and photography, Ligon threads his own image and autobiography into symbols that speak to collective experiences. “It’s not about me,” he says. “It’s about we.”

Glenn Ligon received a BA from Wesleyan University (1982) and attended the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program (1985). He has received numerous awards, including the United States Artists Fellowship (2010); Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize from the Studio Museum in Harlem (2009); Skowhegan Medal for Painting (2006); John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2003); Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant (1998); and Visual Artist Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1989, 1991). His works are in the public collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Tate Modern; Walker Art Center; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, among others. Glenn Ligon lives and works in New York City.

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Teaching with Contemporary Art

The Power of Words

Educator-in-Residence Jeannine Bardo shares her unit plan on language, in which students investigate the power of text through art.

Teaching with Contemporary Art

Scenius, Inspiration, and Invention

Educator-in-Residence Todd Elkin reflects on the ways in which his classroom embodies the concept of “scenius,” in which creative inventions emerge from social contexts, as the students working near each other riff off one another’s strategies and ideas.

Deep Focus

African American Artists Reconstruct the Pastoral

Anthony Merino details the necessary overhaul of art historical traditions predicated on prejudice and exclusion.

Deep Focus

Polyculturalist Visions, New Frameworks of Representation: Multiculturalism and the American Culture Wars

Nettrice Gaskins examines the ongoing crisis of representation in cultural institutions, ultimately arriving at what she sees as a “polyculturalist” future for art, in which it moves away from dialectical identity politics to a sphere of fluid identities.


“Like any artwork, things become richer if you know more about them but I don’t think that’s crucial.”

Glenn Ligon