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Ligon Exhibition Opens at de la Cruz Gallery

Glenn Ligon, Grey Hands #2, 1996, Silkscreen on canvas, 52 x 53 inches; Photographer Credit: Ronald Amstutz © Glenn Ligon; Image courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Thomas Dane Gallery, London.  

January 18, 2019 — The Maria & Alberto de la Cruz Art Gallery at Georgetown University is pleased to present a special collaboration with one of the most prominent voices in creative discourse today: Glenn Ligon (American b. 1960; lives New York City).

Glenn Ligon: To be a Negro in this country is really never to be looked at, on view January 24 through April 7, includes selected works and accompanying labels from some of Ligon’s best-known series.

The works exemplify Ligon’s engagement with language, examination of the African American experience, and the influence of his muses, including Andy Warhol and James Baldwin. A Baldwin quote forms the exhibition’s title and speaks to the show’s central concept, described by Ligon as “the invisibility and simultaneous hypervisibility of black people in America.”


The centerpiece of the exhibition is a group of five never-before-seen grey paintings from Ligon’s celebrated Handsseries depicting the Million Man March, a large and controversial convening of African American men on the National Mall in 1995. The works are hung on top of a facsimile of Andy Warhol’s rarely shown Washington Monument wallpaper — a privilege granted to few artists.

“Georgetown University and its de la Cruz Gallery look to the city of Washington as a cornerstone of critical conversation,” Gallery Director Al Miner said. “Intimately pairing these works by Ligon and Warhol will spark new conversations about how the National Mall inspires artists and citizens alike.”

Employing a technique Warhol pioneered, Ligon silkscreened press images of the protesters onto canvas and obscured the background, leaving the figures eerily silent. However, installed on the wallpaper, Ligon’s subjects are thrust back into their original and powerful setting.

Andy Warhol, Washington Monument, 1974. Screenprint on the wallpaper, 44 x 29 1/2 inches. © 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

“The Million Man March has echoes in early gatherings, such as the silent march against lynching held in June of 1922, or the 1963 March on Washington,” Ligon writes. “I am interested in this recurring, continual need for African Americans to assert our visibility in a country in which we have been crucial presences from the beginning.”


Text-based two-dimensional works form the rest of the exhibition, including a suite of Study for Negro Sunshine drawings quoting Gertrude Stein. These drawings span a decade and culminate in a recent red version, which marks a departure from Ligon’s well-known black and white monochromes.

Glenn Ligon, Study for Negro Sunshine (Red) #2, 2018, oil stick, coal dust and acrylic on paper, 12 x 9 inches (30.5 x 22.9 cm); Photographer Credit: Farzad Owrang © Glenn Ligon; Image courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Thomas Dane Gallery, London.

Large photographic prints from the 2016 Untitled series record Ligon’s enduring engagement with Baldwin’s seminal 1953 essay “Stranger in the Village.” The prints document the accumulated paint smudges and fingerprints on the artist’s studio copy of the text, which has witnessed the creation of nearly two hundred related artworks over almost twenty years. At the conclusion of that essay — which recounts Baldwin’s experience as the only black person in a remote Swiss hamlet — the author writes that he is “not, really, a stranger any longer for any American alive.”

“The optimism of this conclusion is at odds with the current state of American politics and civil discourse on the subject,” Ligon writes.


The exhibition and related engagement series support Georgetown College’s long commitment to advancing social justice.

“Especially at this time of deep political division, colleges and art institutions alike are well poised to provide the great thinkers of our time — including artists — platforms from which they can share their unique battle cries for inclusion, and visibility,” Miner said. “We are honored to support Glenn’s vision and look forward to the dialogue he will spark among our students and community at large.”

Glenn Ligon: To be a Negro in this country is really never to be looked at. will open with a public reception on January 24, from 6-8 p.m. A series of free, multidisciplinary programs ranging from film screenings to public dialogues will expand upon themes of the exhibition. Program details are listed on the Gallery’s website.


Like the Ligon exhibition, a new show in the University’s Lucille M. and Richard F. X. Spagnuolo Gallery also seeks to engage viewers and inspire change. Georgie Friedman: Vortex will open January 24 and remain on view through June 2.

The Boston-based Friedman’s immersive and hypnotic video installation Eye of the Storm III will transform the Gallery into a contemplative space with a disquieting undercurrent. Friedman explores humankind’s simultaneous defenselessness and culpability in relation to an array of powerful weather events.


January 28, 2019 – Talk with Jennifer Brody: “Free Form: Art, Activism and Racial Justice,” part of “Racial Justice: Arts and Activism” series; co-sponsored by the Race and Justice Institute and the Departments of African American Studies and Performing Arts (3:30 pm, Maria & Alberto de la Cruz Art Gallery)

February 13, 2019 – Film Screening: Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro (6:00 pm, Maria & Alberto de la Cruz Art Gallery)

February 19, 2019 – A Dialogue with Artist Adrienne Gaither & Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins: “ON DIGNITY: Policy & Art” (6:00 pm, Maria & Alberto de la Cruz Art Gallery; followed by a reception in the Nora Cooney Marra Memorial Atrium of the Walsh Building)

February 26, 2019 –  Artist’s Talk with Georgie Friedman (5:00 pm, Walsh Building, Room 497; followed by a reception in the Nora Cooney Marra Memorial Atrium of the Walsh Building and the Spagnuolo Art Gallery)

Future programs will be announced on the Galleries’ website.

Art & Art History