What is America?
February 24 - April 1, 2022
Opening Reception: Thursday, February 24th 3:30-5:30 pm

The Atkinson Gallery at Santa Barbara City College is pleased to present What is America?, a group exhibition featuring Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Zoe Leonard, and Glenn Ligon from February 24 - April 1. The show brings together three artists who explore concepts around American identity in their work using different approaches and mediums.  This exhibition posits a rhetorical question about cultural identity that has no single or correct answer. Just as identity is malleable and subject to context, the work of Gonzalez-Torres will be re-installed several times and in several locations throughout the run of the exhibition.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres (b.1957- d.1996) is a Cuban-born American artist who uses conceptual ideas around uniqueness and multiplicity to investigate the value of materiality and ownership. His works often employ common materials, such as wrapped candies, printed paper, plastic beads, and light bulbs to create multi-layered sculptures and installations. Many of his works are interactive and endlessly reproducible and can exist in more than one location at a time despite their identification as unique. Other artworks, such as those from his light strings series, are often indistinguishable from each other physically. Still, each one bears a specific parenthetical title and is not manifestable in more than one location at a time. In both types of work, it is the manner of installation (a choice bestowed upon the owner of the work or an authorized borrower) that completes the piece. The exhibition will include the light string "Untitled" (Silver), 1992, which the artist created using twenty-four identical metal light sockets.

Zoe Leonard (b. 1961) is a New York-based photographer and sculptor whose work embraces a conceptual framework using repetition, shifting perspectives, and various printing processes. Leonard's practice examines the politics of representation and display, exploring themes such as gender and sexuality, loss and mourning, migration, displacement, and the urban landscape. Her photo-based work specifically invites us to contemplate the medium's role in constructing history and exposes the roots of today's contemporary photographic culture. More than its focus on any particular subject, however, Leonard's work encourages the viewer to reconsider the act of looking, drawing attention to observation as a complex, ongoing process. For example, Leonard's piece in the exhibition Horseshoe Falls from Goat Island, 2018 consists of 210 vintage postcards depicting an identical view of the largest of the three waterfalls that form Niagara Falls along the border of the United States and Canada.

Glenn Ligon (b. 1960) is a New York-based painter and sculptor. Their works examine cultural and social identity through found sources— such as literature, coloring books, and photographs—to reveal how the history of slavery, the civil rights movement, and sexual politics inform our understanding of American society. Ligon appropriates texts from various literary writers, including Walt Whitman, Jean Genet, Zora Neal Hurston, Jesse Jackson, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison. In addition, he is known for his ongoing series of stenciled text-based paintings made with various mediums including oil-stick, and graphite, made since the late 1980s, which draw on the writings and speech of these diverse literary and political figures. In the exhibition, Ligon's work, Figure #43, 2010, painted with acrylic, silkscreen, and coal dust, quotes Baldwin's 1953 essay "Stranger in the Village," published in Notes of a Native Son in 1955.

Special thanks to the lenders to the exhibition:

Leonard: Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Ligon: Courtesy of Regen Projects
Gonzalez-Torres: Collection Andrea Rosen, Courtesy of the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation

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