Glenn Ligon’s third exhibition at the Thomas Dane Gallery sees inspiration from Steve Reich’s Come Out (1966) manifesting through an ensemble of three monumental screen-printed paintings.
Reich’s speech piece samples the voice of Daniel Hamm, one of six young men wrongfully charged with the murder of a shopkeeper in the Harlem riots of 1864. The young men were severely beaten and denied access to their own lawyers. The case of the ‘Harlem Six’ became a focal point for politicians, civil rights activists and artists decrying police brutality against black citizens, and questioning in the words of James Baldwin, “where, indeed, is the morality that can afford to destroy so many.”
Reich became involved in the case when he was asked to create a piece for a benefit concert in New York. He listened to the taped testimony of the defendants, and samples Hamm saying “I had to, like, open the bruise up, and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them”. The phrase is shortened to “Come out to show them”, which is repeated on two channels, first in unison, but then deviating rhythms, causing increasing reverberation, leading into canon.
The intelligibility of the words is destroyed as the phrases break further apart, and this is the element Ligon has drawn upon in his work. The same phrase used by Reich is repeatedly screen-printed and superimposed onto the canvas, increasing in density in each painting until the words verge on abstraction. The progression of density within the work echoes the ‘wall of sound’ musical production technique made famous by Phil Spector in the 1960’s, and consequently built upon by Reich through his interest in contrapuntal compositional technique and African drumming.
Ligon’s previous work has invited viewers to concentrate on the slowly shifting effects within a visual continuum, for instance some of his earliest text paintings utilised a single sentence stencilled in black oilstick down a panel until the words of the text are obscured. However, in this exhibition Ligon maintains the legibility of the words, suggesting that the social conditions that led to Reich’s composition remain relevant and unfinished.
Come Out, 12 February – 22 March, Thomas Dane Gallery, 11 Duke Street St James’s, London SW1Y 6BN. For more information visit www.thomasdanegallery.com.
1. Glenn Ligon, Come Out, 2014.