Grey Room

How to Hear What Is Not Heard: Glenn Ligon, Steve Reich, and the Audible Past

Janet Kraynak


In 2015, on the occasion of the Venice Biennale, Glenn Ligon prominently installed a large neon sign sculpture atop the façade of the Central Pavilion, one of the buildings in the historic exhibition’s giardini. The visibility of its site, however, stood in contrast to its muted presence and enigmatic message. Crafted from translucent neon and white paint and mounted on a horizontal scaffolding, the work comprised just three detached words (“blues,” “blood,” and “bruise”) that obscured the existing sign (for “la Biennale” ). Extending an idiosyncratic welcome to visitors, the three words, at any moment, were illuminated or not, yielding a playful, if nonsensical semiosis. Fragmented from any semantic context, the words were bound together only by the rhythmic sound pattern suggested by their repeating “b’-b’-b’s.” A Small Band, as the work is titled, that silently plays.