Glenn Ligon, American, b. 1960
Medium: Iris print and iris print with serigraph
Sheet: 32 x 22 3/4 in. (81.3 x 57.8 cm)
Credit Line: Memphis Brooks Museum of Art purchase with funds provided by Blanchard and Louise Tual, Paul and Phyllis Berz, and Jef and Babs Feibelman in honor of Kaywin Feldman and Jim Lutz
Object Number: 2003.2a-b
Copyright: © Glenn Ligon
Not on view
Glenn Ligon’s Condition Report is a diptych made from a direct photo scan of the artist’s 1988 painting, Untitled (I am a Man). Executed by a museum professional, a condition report is a record of an artwork’s physical condition, annotating both accidental damage and natural deterioration. For this piece Ligon combines the analytical appearance of the condition report with the technique of appropriation, using a preexisting text to produce a new artwork in which the original meaning is altered and expanded. Through this method he has established a structure from which he can comment upon the current state of the civil rights movement, as well as his own self-awareness as an African American gay man living in the wake of the historical moment he references.
The phrase “I Am a Man” took on iconic status in Ernest Withers’ photographs of striking Memphis sanitation workers wearing placards emblazoned with those words in 1968. An association with the subsequent assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was in Memphis in support of the workers, has made the phrase recognizable worldwide. It has come to symbolize the struggle of African Americans to be treated with dignity and respect as an equal in a time when such equality was little more than a dream.
Ligon’s work reveals his fascination with the influence of race, gender, sexuality, and the power of language upon the formation of personal identity. By using this iconic text of the civil rights movement, Ligon acknowledges the importance of the era from which it derived, as well as the cultural resonance the phrase still possesses. He also implies, through the subjection of his painting to the procedures of a condition report, that the movement, like the painting, has weathered a great deal since its origin. This print is also a self-portrait, the text placard covered with hand-drawn observations of deficiencies that act as a surrogate for the artist’s own image. Ligon intertwines the personal and the political, asserting that despite criticism of his condition he, like his protesting counterparts of 1968, deserves the dignity and respect accorded to others.