Self-Portrait at Eleven Years Old
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First impressions are everything and Glenn Ligon is going after the first impression that the abstract expressionists made: a hearty WTF and theatrical head scratch.

It took my dude De Kooning a while to become legible and Ligon is still dealing with audiences that just don’t get it. Self-Portrait at Eleven Years Old is pretty obviously not a self-portrait from when Ligon was 11. It is, in fact, Stevie Wonder from the cover of Looking Back. The piece is admittedly confusing for somebody that doesn’t know whom Stevie Wonder or Glenn Ligon are, nor what 11 year olds look like. Actually, everybody carries smartphones around in their pockets so Ligon has a right to be annoyed at people that don’t even try to get it. Like, literally just Google “glenn ligon self-portrait at eleven years old,” or do we need to make a Shazaam for art (which would actually be so sick).

Art of famous people is pretty standard fare but artists don’t usually try to pass themselves off as the celebrity. It’d be easy to chalk it up to Ligon’s massive ego except that he’s super nice. His friends describe him as “socially very adept yet, paradoxically, he’s somewhat of a loner” and “soft spoken, well-spoken” and “Sometimes he has a loud laugh, and lately I’ve noticed he refers to himself as ‘mother’.” Luc Tuymans, who does have a massive ego, would definitely not describe himself as mother.

Ligon has no interest in good impressions or making himself look better, he says failed art is in line with his greater artistic vision. Ligon is most concerned with making his audience think, even if it’s as baby thoughts like is this actually a self portrait of Glenn as an 11 y.o.? The bar for art viewers' thoughts is certainly low, but isn’t that just the motherliest thing? Honey you’re doing great with those thoughts, keep using that brain sweetie, you can do it, you can understand this art I know you can!




  1. Alipour, Yasaman. March 4, 2016. “I am a Lie and I am Gold.” The Brooklyn Rail. Accessed August 7, 2017.
  2. Drogin, David. Interview with Glenn Ligon. Museo Magazine, 2010. Accessed Aug 7, 2017.
  3. Ligon, Glenn. Runaways. 1993, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge. Division of Modern and Contemporary Art, Harvard Art Museums. Accessed August 7, 2017.
  4. Littman, Brett. Interview with Glenn Ligon. Dieu Donné Grant Lab Program, Pub. Series No. 6, 2004. Accessed Aug 7, 2017.
  5. Moran, Jason. “Glenn Ligon.” Interview Magazine, June 8, 2009. Accessed August 1, 2017.