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Untitled (America, America)

2015

  • Medium

    Neon and blackened steel

  • Credit

    Purchased with funds provided by the Acquisition and Collection Committee 

  • Accession number

    2015.10A-B

  • Object label

    Glenn Ligon’s Untitled (America, America) pairs two erratically flickering neon signs, outfitted with steel backings and trailed by electrical cords, in a V formation. Each sign reads “America” and the on-and-off flashing alternately emphasizes black steel and white light, which, according to the artist, embodies the persistent sense that this country, for all of its “dark deeds,” is nonetheless a “shining light.” Thinking about the opening line of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . ,” Ligon made the first of his neon America sculptures in 2008, a moment of tremendous optimism but, simultaneously, of intractable wars, severe economic collapse, and deepening racial, political, and class divisions. By placing the signs face down on the floor, Ligon subverts both the basic purpose of light (to illuminate) and the basic purpose of language (to communicate), making the subject, America, hard to see and hard to understand.