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View of “Glenn Ligon: AMERICA,” 2011, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Six works from the “Door Paintings” series, 1990–92. Photo: Sheldan Collins.

Glenn Ligon

View of “Glenn Ligon: AMERICA,” 2011, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Six works from the “Door Paintings” series, 1990–92. Photo: Sheldan Collins.

THE LATE 1980s AND EARLY ’90s is a time without a name. Eras become knowable after the fact: Only recently have scholars and younger artists turned their attention to that relatively undefined art-historical moment. The moment in question witnessed the rise of AIDS activism and an expanded institutional critique (with its “minings” of public institutions and engagement of sites beyond the white cube), the Whitney Biennial of 1993 and the first manifestations of an art of relational exchange. Glenn Ligon and his generation—my generation—emerged in this milieu. Bracketed by such events as the AIDS crisis, the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the dismantling of apartheid, and the decline of the art market, the art world of the early ’90s was a scene in transition. Artists and critics had absorbed the critical positions of an earlier moment. The field of postmodernism had been

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