Museum exhibits in New York are as ubiquitous as yellow cabs, so choosing what to check out can be a struggle (so little time, so many Cézanne's). If we had to pick just one exhibit to see this month, it would be Glenn Ligon: AMERICA at the Whitney.
The brilliant 51-year-old artist from the Bronx has explored themes of race and identity through several mediums--including photography, painting and sculptural installation--since the 1980s. But it wasn't until 2009, when President Obama added Ligon's 1992 painting Black Like Me No. 2 to the White House art collection, that the artist gained major recognition outside of the art world.
Starting today (through June 5), the Whitney will exhibit the first-ever retrospective of Ligon's work, with more than 100 pieces on display (including never-before-seen drawings). Works of note include Malcolm X, a surreal silkscreen painting of the civil rights leader, and Mirror, a text-based print whose only discernible phrase is "see my smile."
While all of Ligon's work is immensely thought-provoking, his most compelling pieces are text-based paintings, which use the words of influential figures, like Jesse Jackson and Richard Pryor, to express personal feelings of isolation. For an artist who spent much of his life feeling like an outsider, this exhibit is quite the retribution.
The Whitney, 945 Madison Ave. (at 75th St.); 212-570-3600 or whitney.org/