Glenn Ligon at D’Amelio Terras

Glenn Ligon; courtesy J. Crew

* * *

Samuel Johnson famously branded patriotism the last refuge of a scoundrel. As I walked out of Glenn Ligon’s video installation at D’Amelio Terras, I felt the urge to paraphrase Johnson: Video art is the first refuge of a narcissist.

The Orange and Blue Feelings (2003) is a 55-minute video that features several sessions Mr. Ligon spent with his therapist. It’s a two-screen presentation: The right half focuses on the therapist’s office (bookshelves, pictures, knickknacks), the left half on the therapist herself, cropped so that we see her only from the neck down. Mr. Ligon doesn’t appear in the video, though we do hear him talking.

I hope the sessions did him some good–and I hope the therapist is charging a hefty fee. Watching her fold her arms, cross her legs and generally exhibit signs of discomfort, we sympathize wholeheartedly: The woman is being exploited.

Listening to Mr. Ligon expound on “the literary and the banal”, I took note of the visitors to the gallery. Only a few of the viewers took advantage of the surprisingly comfortable foam cubes provided as seating; those who did shifted restlessly. No one stayed longer than a minute or two. Are you supposed to watch the whole thing? Fifty-five minutes is a long time when you’re eavesdropping on someone’s conversation with his shrink.

It’s clear that Mr. Ligon believes the purpose of art is to provide an outlet for shameless self-absorption. He’s wrong, of course, but one look at his works on canvas (there’s a clownish portrait of Malcolm X that’s an insult to history and to the rest of us, too) and you’ll find yourself eager to encourage his cinematic pursuits.

© 2003 Mario Naves

A version of the article was originally published in the December 22-29, 2003 edition of The New York Observer.

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