Glenn Ligon, untitled, 2012, newspaper collage, 12 x 10 1/2".

Glenn Ligon, untitled, 2012, newspaper collage, 12 x 10 1/2".

Glenn Ligon

Glenn Ligon, untitled, 2012, newspaper collage, 12 x 10 1/2".

A COUPLE MONTHS AGO, I was at the Museum of Modern Art in New York looking at Jasper Johns’s masterful Flag, 1954–55, when I noticed a young man standing right behind me. I assumed he was waiting his turn to do the close reading of the work that I was doing, but then I realized that he was facing away from the painting toward his girlfriend, who was holding a cell phone and waiting for me to move so she could take a picture of him. It occurred to me that for many people, to look is to photograph, and looking is a social experience, an act to be captured on a phone and disseminated to friends.

For several decades I have worked primarily with text, making paintings, prints, and installations that encourage a viewer to oscillate between reading and looking. Recently I have started making collages based on de Kooning paintings. Unlike my earlier work, the collages are more about looking than reading, though my source images are news photos that often strive to tell stories themselves. The impulse to reuse, recycle, and recontextualize is nothing new. What is new is the overabundance of images we have to choose from. The task is to see whether something can be made from them. I do not wish to add any more.