Glenn Ligon. Photo by David Seidner.
The New School has commissioned American artist Glenn Ligon to create his first permanent site-specific work in New York City for the new University Center. Ligon was recommended by a group of New School faculty and curators, and approved by university trustees.
"From the famed frescoes by José Clemente Orozco to Kara Walker's recent Event Horizon, The New School has always celebrated art that challenges the status quo and reexamines history," said New School President, David Van Zandt. "Drawing on this legacy, we are very pleased to inaugurate one of The New School's newest and most striking spaces with Glenn Ligon's provocative and inspiring commission."
The commission, Ligon's most ambitious neon work to date, presents the artist's investigation of the writings of one of New York City's most iconic and influential poets, Walt Whitman. Streams of neon text chosen from Leaves of Grass will travel around the perimeter walls of the University Center's first-floor Event Café. Ligon re-frames Whitman's meditations of the city, the body, temporality and the nature of the creative endeavor with a personal and political immediacy. In his continued explorations on the mutability of language, text, and representation, Ligon's incisive treatment of a canonical literary work simultaneously confronts the past and present and invites the viewer to engage in a critical cultural dialogue.
"Whitman created a new space in which to consider the American experiment, and over one hundred and fifty years after its publication, the poems in 'Leaves of Grass' continue to echo throughout the culture," said Ligon. "The quotes in this piece are reflective of a space of encounter and transience, a restless space that in Whitman's poems is characteristic of the space of the city."
Glenn Ligon is a conceptual artist known for his text-based multi-media work, which focuses on issues of the self in society. Through his examinations of race, sexuality, and desire, Ligon offers a compelling and nuanced commentary on American history and sociopolitical themes. His work has been shown internationally, including the Tate Modern (2007), Documenta 11 (2002), the Venice Biennale (1997). In March, 2011, a mid-career retrospective, Glenn Ligon: AMERICA, opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art and traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Solo museum exhibitions include the Power Plant, Toronto (2005) Dia Center for the Arts, New York, (2003) the Studio Museum in Harlem (2001), the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2000), the Brooklyn Museum of Art (1996), the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (1992) and numerous other venues. Ligon received his B.A. from Wesleyan University in 1982, and attended the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in 1985. His most recent exhibition is Neon, at Luhring Augustine Gallery in Chelsea, which runs through January 19, 2013. Ligon's works are represented in numerous private and institutional collections, including the White House Art Collection and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C..
The university has a longstanding tradition of supporting the creation of new art in public spaces. This began in 1931 with the commissioning of works in the Joseph Urban building by Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco, American artist Thomas Hart Benton, and Ecuadorian artist Camilo Egas. Recent commissions include site-specific works by Sol Le Witt, Dave Muller, Martin Puryear and Michael Van Valkenburgh, Brian Tolle, and Kara Walker. The New School Art Collection, currently curated by Silvia Rocciolo and Eric Stark, was established in 1960 with a grant from the Albert A. List Foundation. Now grown to approximately 1,900 postwar and contemporary works of art, the collection contains works by some of the most innovative and creative artists of our time.
The New School's University Center, designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), is the first commissioned building for The New School since its landmark Joseph Urban building was erected in 1931 at 66 West 12th Street. The new building will house a performance space, library, flexible classrooms, study and social spaces, a cafeteria and a dormitory.