Glenn Ligon Rethinks the Color Line in the Show ‘Blue Black’

Much of the show operates on this strategy of connecting through proximity different kinds of layering and revealing. In a downstairs gallery, a 1967 abstract painting by Richard Pousette-Dart, a haze of blue and yellow daubs, reflects that artist’s cosmological interests. It hangs beside Ross Bleckner’s 1993 “Galaxy,” in which an irregular grid of glowing lights was conceived as a memorial to friends who died of AIDS. Derek Jarman’s indelibly elegiac film “Blue,” from the same year, is visually just a field of unbroken and unchanging azure. After Jarman started working on it, he learned he had AIDS and gradually lost his sight. The blue screen became an image of blindness; the spoken soundtrack, lifted from his journals, a chronicle of dying.

The Jarman film is a self-portrait that doesn’t call itself that. There are others. A brushy black, white and sky-blue painting by Louise Fishman is a kind of encephalographic image of a personal practice of meditation. In Lyle Ashton Harris’s 2002 blue-tinted photograph of Billie Holiday, that great diva of jazz is played by the artist himself.


From left, Jack Whitten’s “Self Portrait I” (2014); Simone Leigh’s “Dunham” (2017); and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s “Messages From Elsewhere” (2013).

Alise O’Brien Photography/left, Collection of Nancy and Dave Gill; center, Luhring Augustine, New York; right, Private Collection, Chicago

In some cases, spirits are present but bodies are missing, as in a patchwork wall hanging by the South African artist Turiya Magadlela stitched from black and brown nylon pantyhose. The title of Byron Kim’s gorgeous painting “Innocence Over Blue,” along with its image, comes from a poem by the St. Louis writer Carl Phillips describing the color and texture of a bruise on a lover’s skin.

By the look of it, Mr. Kim’s picture is about as abstract as abstraction can get. So is “Blue Serge” by Jennie C. Jones, which combines an acoustic panel and a canvas painted with blue and black lines to suggest a connection between Modernist painting and improvisational jazz (examples of which you can hear in a self-service Blue Black Library). David Hammons forges links, too, but different ones, between art and street in his 2014 piece “The New Black,” which consists of a blue gestural painting covered up, and canceled out, by an overlay of…

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