Ligon's paintings present quotations that expose the dangers of speaking simplistically about African-American identity in art and in life. The text of Untitled features words spoken by James Baldwin (1924-1987) in an interview late in his life. Baldwin states the difficulties and restrictions faced by African American artists who feel obliged to create "an official version of the black experience" for the white cultural establishment. Ligon's long skinny canvas makes it difficult to read, and in this respect seems to be a metaphor for the limitations of communication.
( “So much of the work has been about taking text to the point of disappearance.” - Glenn Ligon ) Both the late author James Baldwin (1924 – 1987), quoted here, and Ligon employ text, not figurative images, to comment on the gay, African American experience.  But, for both men, neither images nor words can sum up what it feels like to be black for the mostly white cultural community. The long, horizontal format and smudged hand-stenciled letters of Ligon’s piece make it difficult for viewers to read allowing only a portion of the quote, and a portion of the experience it addresses, to reach viewers.


  • Title: Untitled (James Baldwin)
  • Creator: Glenn Ligon
  • Date Created: 1990
  • Physical Dimensions: 6 1/4 x 84 in.
  • Provenance: The artist; with Max Protetch Gallery, New York; to MFA, Boston, 1991
  • Subject Keywords: African American Artist
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Seth K. Sweetser Fund. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. All Rights Reserved.
  • External Link: MFA Website Entry
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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