Exploring the paradox of Ligon’s neon work

We’re staying in The Yellow Building for this month’s ‘Spotlight on Art’ to celebrate the iconic neon sculpture by acclaimed artist Glenn Ligon (b. 1960).

There has long been a love affair between contemporary artists and neon-lit lettering, choosing this technique to evoke their personal artistry.

From Tracey Emin’s thought-provoking work using emotive phrases such as ‘Meet Me In Heaven I Will Wait for You’ (2016) to Mario Merz’s igloo series which saw the Italian artist incorporate neon catchphrases and politician slogans onto his mixed media igloo sculptures.

For Ligon, the lettering used in ‘Untitled’ (2009) in The Yellow Building is coated in a layer of black paint, dimming the neon affect. This paradoxical mix of light with darkness reflects the artist’s own mixed feelings about his country-of-origin America. Ligon explained his rationale for the work in 2008 when he explained; “There is this sense that America, for all its dark deeds, is still this shining light. That’s how the piece came about, because I was thinking about Dickens’s ‘the best of times, the worst of times’.”

There are four variations of this neon sculpture in circulation with one in the Tate’s National Collection. Each vary slightly in execution, but all use a single neon tube for each individual letter, making the combined piece to seem appear to float over the wall.

The piece can be found in The Yellow Building atrium alongside other world-class art from the likes of Hockney, Koons and Höller.

20 September 2021