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HistoryPreview

How do artists mine the past to explore the present? Why do some historical events shape the way we think today, and why have some been forgotten? In what ways do artists use their own histories to examine the human condition?

In this preview from the History episode from Season 6 of Art in the Twenty-First Century (2012), artists play with historical events, explore and expose commonly held assumptions about historic ‘truth’, and create narratives based on personal experiences.

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Glenn Ligon

Glenn 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. 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.

Marina Abramović

A pioneer of performance as a visual art form, Marina Abramović has used her body as both subject and medium of her performances to test her physical, mental, and emotional limits—often pushing beyond them and even risking her life—in a quest for heightened consciousness, transcendence, and self-transformation. Characterized by endurance and pain—and by repetitive behavior, actions of long duration, and intense public interactions and energy dialogues—her work has engaged, fascinated, and sometimes repelled live audiences.

Mary Reid Kelley

In videos and drawings filled with punning wordplay, Mary Reid Kelley presents her take on the clash between utopian ideologies and the realities of women’s lives in the struggle for liberation and through political strife, wars, and other historical events. Performing scripted narratives in rhyming verse, the artist, with various family members, explores historical periods through fictitious characters. Adopting a stark black-and-white palette while synthesizing art-historical styles such as Cubism and German Expressionism, Reid Kelley playfully jumbles historical period to trace the ways in which present concerns are rooted in the past.

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