Glenn Ligon at the Power Plant (235 Queens Quay West) to September 5. 416-973-4949. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
The works in Glenn Ligon's mid-career retrospective weave conundrums around the assumptions behind race, collective memory and identity. Starting with images and texts of African American experience as points of departure, he impishly divorces them from their original contexts and lets his viewers puzzle over the results.
One group of images came about after he sent colouring books of famous Afro-Americans to be filled in by a random sampling of young school children. The once reviled and subversive Malcolm X came back with rouge, pink lipstick and blue eyeshadow. Another series features wanted posters for runaway slaves from the American Civil War, but captioned with descriptions of Ligon written by his friends. The warm, witty, personal descriptions of the cosmopolitan Ligon contrast unsettlingly with the illustrations of shackled fleeing slaves.
Unexpected dissonance and radical revisionism underscore everything in this show. Ligon's text paintings of excerpts from Richard Pryor's monologues feature the comedian's wildly raw spoken humour, never intended for an art gallery, in bright Neo-Geo colours. They accentuate not only the distance between spoken and painted text, but also the gap between Pryor's audience and the contemporary gallery-going crowd.
Ligon's work is so preoccupied with context, it goes beyond its initial questions about race to ask something more universal. He's investigating the unpredictable and often humorous changes that occur in personal and collective narratives with the shifting of context, memory and time.