Yesterday, PJ, Matthew, Liz, Ayesha, and I drove over to Columbus to visit the Wexner Center for the Arts on the Ohio State University Campus.

Glenn LigonOur main reason for going was to see the Glenn Ligon exhibit, entitled “Glenn Ligon–Some Changes.”Glenn Ligon is a queer artist who “creates resonant, multilayered works that filter other people’s texts, images, jokes, and voices,” as the exhibit’s brochure relates. Or, as book of the exhibit explains, “Glenn Ligon is at the forefront of a generation of artists who came to prominence in the late 1980s on the strength of conceptually based paintings and phototext work whose subjects investigate the social, linguistic, and political constructions of race, gender, and sexuality” (7). This is a picture of Ligon.

The exhibit is small but fascinating. One of the works that stood out to me was End of Year Reports, a series of “thoughtful and brutally honest critiques of Ligon at age 12 and 13,” to quote the brochure. Here’s a picture that shows how the work looks hanging in the museum. It’s a collection of report cards in which his teachers comment about such issues as his refusal “to talk about his own recognition of his own sexual urges.” This refusal is interpreted as a kind of immaturity, and the teacher concludes that he will become more comfortable with his body and sexual desires within the next year, at which point he’ll interact with the other students — especially the girls — on a more social level. (We, of course, know that he in fact turns out gay instead, making the reports even more interesting.) What kind of teachers are these that they comment on his sexuality so directly? At first, PJ thought that these must be Ligon’s imagined recreations of his teachers’ thoughts, but the brochure indicates that they are his genuine report cards. They’re really crazy to read. It really makes me wonder what I’d say about my students’ sexual development (and so glad that I don’t ever have to)!

One work, Annotations, is online. If you launch it, you get an online version of a family-style photo album. If you click on the individual images, you get Ligon’s annotations, some of which are definitely adult-oriented. I find his insertion of his own desires into the family album to be a fascinating project. It’s a great idea; maybe more of us gay people should do projects like this one. His Runaways series is also great: he uses the historically accurate format of escaped slave notices to describe himself, using his friends’ descriptions of him. (As I said above, a lot of his work is about reprocessing other people’s words about him.)

The Wexner is also housing an exhibit of works by Sadie Benning, called Suspended Animation, right now. Benning is another queer artist. I first heard of her a couple of years ago when a colleague recommended that we watch her videos. As a teenager, Benning made a series of videos using a Fisher Price camera. These short movies detail, in part, her coming to terms with her sexuality. I highly recommend them, especially her short film about Rubyfruit Jungle.

This exhibit is mostly of her recent paintings but also includes Benning’s 29-minute animated film, titled Play Pause. I didn’t watch it all, but the part I saw was fascinating. I wish I had stayed to see it all. It’s kind of simplistically drawn (or so it seems at first) and combines music, dual screens, and a non-narrative form to follow a group of characters around in bars, at home, at the airport, etc. We see various aspects of these characters’ lives, including their sex lives. As I’ve subsequently read online, this movie is a response to 911 and the loneliness she feels is intrinsic to her sexuality. Like I said, I really wish I had stayed and watched the whole thing. I did buy the book that accompanied the exhibit, so at least I’ll get to learn more about it.

Benning’s paintings are also interesting. I especially liked one called “Karen,” because it reminds me of Suzan-Lori Parks. The paintings are all extremely large portraits of people’s heads. She describes them more as drawings because of their cartoonish qualities.

After the museum, we walked around the OSU campus for a little before heading over to Basi Italia for dinner. It’s a great restaurant. We each ordered from the prefix menu, which was very reasonably priced for the amount of food you get — generous portions of three courses for $20. We also ordered a delicious bottle of wine, a 2003 Boccadigabbia Rosso Piceno. 

So, it was a very fun day. We saw two interesting exhibits, had  a great meal, and enjoyed conversing with new friends. In a sense, it’s what  living in Athens is all about!

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