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Zurich, Limmatstrasse

Glenn Ligon
First Contact
17 Sep – 23 Dec 2021

Explore the exhibition

This September, the celebrated American artist Glenn Ligon will debut a major new work in his first exhibition with Hauser & Wirth titled ‘First Contact’. This is the first time in the series that Ligon uses the entire text in a painting and marks the inaugural presentation of this body of work in Switzerland. The exhibition in Zurich precedes Ligon’s major solo presentation spanning three floors at Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street, opening on 10 November, and a new publication from Hauser & Wirth Publishers forthcoming this autumn.

Stranger (Full Text) #1

Glenn Ligon
2020 – 2021
Oilstick, gesso and coal dust on canvas, two panels
304.8 x 1371.6 cm / 120 x 540 in

The location and scale reflect both the Swiss setting of James Baldwin’s autobiographical essay and the magnitude of racial alienation it describes.

In the text, Baldwin recounts his experience of visiting the small mountain village of Leukerbad, Switzerland where he encounters villagers who have never met a Black man before him.

He describes his interactions with the villagers, over multiple visits to the town, as they react to his Blackness, sometimes with curiosity and enthusiasm, and sometimes with fear and suspicion. He connects these experiences to global structures of racism, colonialism, and white supremacy and analyses how they manifest in both the United States and Europe. Baldwin compares the alienation he feels in this small village with the racism he experienced in America, but concludes that the foundations of American racism, in fact, originated in Europe.

In appropriating Baldwin’s essay in ‘Stranger (Full Text) #1’ (2020-2021), Ligon draws connections between the cultural context of the United States and Europe in the 1950s to the present, underscoring the ongoing presence of systemic racism and the effects of colonialism within it.

As the inaugural presentation of this body of work in Switzerland, Ligon felt this was ‘an opportunity to show this work for the first time there, but also to recognize that these are [both] American issues and global issues’. ‘First Contact’ refers both to Baldwin’s presence in Leukerbad and Ligon’s Zurich presentation of the Stranger series.

This work is a part of a larger body of text-based paintings in which Ligon stencils text onto canvas with oil stick creating a relief of sentences. As the stencil is moved across the canvas, oil stick residue and smudges from previous words mark the canvas, obscuring some of the text. Through the work’s varying degrees of legibility, Ligon uses the representational form of language to depict varying states of hypervisibility and invisibility in the Black experience.

Ligon concludes his Stranger series, which he has worked on for over two decades, with these new monumental paintings using Baldwin’s entire essay. A new triptych from the same series, also measuring 45 feet long, will be on view at Hauser & Wirth New York this November.

About the artist

Born in the Bronx, New York, in 1960, Glenn Ligon received a BA from Wesleyan University in 1982. His early practice was grounded in painting, and his canvases of this period built upon the legacies of artists such as Philip Guston, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns. In 1984 – 1985, Ligon spent an academic year in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study Program, developing a series of representational drawings of iconic sculptures by European artists such as Alberto Giacometti and Constantin Brâncuși, juxtaposed against images of African American hair products rendered in acrylic and ink.

Learn more

Inquire about available works by Glenn Ligon