Conversations. Theaster Gates and Glenn Ligon, in dialogue with Thelma Golden

February 17, 2015 - 7:00 p.m.
Nouvel Building, Auditorium 200
In collaboration with
The US Department of State (Art in Embassies) and the US Embassy

This activity gets a new series of dialogues and lectures termed conversations under way. The conversations complement the encounters and seminars, but also differ from these programs through an approach that does not centre on the specific research conducted by the Museo, instead aiming to open up a complementary space. The conversations, to take place twice monthly, participate in and reflect the echoes of a broader debate, serving to present recent or upcoming museum projects, research exhibitions and key ideas in other contexts.

The debate surrounding racial difference and the politics of representation in the contemporary art produced in recent times in the USA forms the nucleus of this first conversation. Displaced by a conservative critique regarding the notions of quality and assimilation, the analysis of racial identity and its narrative has, nevertheless, returned with a new approach. Thus, exhibitions such as Radical Presence. Black Performance in Contemporary Art (Grey Art Gallery and Studio Museum, Harlem, 2013-2014) and Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art since 1970 (Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, 2005) have not only laid claim to other spatial and temporal genealogies, but have even pressed major museums to rethink the landmarks of modernity, which will no longer solely move from Paris to New York, but also from Accra to Chicago, from Lagos to Harlem, where Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series inevitably comes face to face with Matisse’s African travels.

In this conference, Thelma Golden, Director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, analyses, along with artists Glenn Ligon and Theaster Gates, how this return takes on and transforms former critical practices, such as 1970s conceptual art or community-based art at the beginning of the 1990s. Through textual paintings, neon installations and film, the work of Glenn Ligon inhabits the vocabulary of the North American conceptual legacy, breaking it down with an invisible language, subject and context. Theaster Gates, meanwhile, can be found among the committed Chicago art scene, ranging from Leon Golub to Kerry James Marshall, adding the traces of black material culture to performance. The Black Monks of Mississippi, a blues band the artist incorporates into his work, perform the oral and musical fragments of a vernacular and collective history of the black experience. Both Ligon and Golden respond to the question of how to think about an art that is aware of both its difference and its centrality.


Theaster Gates (Chicago, 1973) is an artist, musician and cultural activist. His expansive body of work includes installation, sculpture and performance, and he is a founding member of the Rebuild Foundation project and the current director of the Arts + Public Life initiative from the University of Chicago. His work has been exhibited in numerous spaces, including the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Serralves Foundation in Porto.

Thelma Golden (New York, 1966) has been director and chief curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem since 2000. She has curated a significant number of exhibitions, including Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary Art (Whitney Museum, 1994) and Harlemworld: Metropolis as Metaphor (Studio Museum in Harlem, 2004). Furthermore, she has lectured and held conferences in institutions such as London’s Royal College of Art and Yale and Columbia Universities.

Glenn Ligon (New York, 1960) is one of the most highly acclaimed North American artists of his generation. His heterogeneous oeuvre encompasses video, painting and installation and he has been the subject of solo exhibitions in spaces such as the Power Plant in Toronto (2005) and Camden Arts Centre, London (2014). This year he is due to exhibit in Tate Liverpool and Nottingham Contemporary (June-October, 2015). Moreover, his work has also formed part of collective shows such as Documenta XI in Kassel in 2002 and the 1991 and 1993 Whitney Biennials.