Kimberly Connor calls her gamble on acquiring conceptual artist Glenn Ligon’s work a “horse that won.” In memory of her father’s death in 1995, she spent the small inheritance the way she thought he would. “My father was a wonderful man,” Connor said, then leaned in and whispered, “but he loved to go to the racetrack.”
Since her purchase of thirteen of Ligon’s title pages and stencils in 1995 from the Max Protetch Galleries, Ligon has “vaulted into substantial prominence,” Connor said. President Barack Obama chose to display Ligon’s work in the White House. The Whitney Museum of Art in New York City, will present a major retrospective of Ligon’s work next month.
Glenn Ligon, who is black and gay, is known for his work in highlighting issues of racial identity.
Connor, whose academic fields of interest include African American culture and religion, is an associate professor in the University of San Francisco’s College of Business and Professional Studies in the Department of Organizations, Leadership, and Society. Her Ligon pieces, along with several others, are the Black History Month on display at Thacher Gallery. “Textimonies,” the Thacher show, features Ligon works that use text to explore ideas about race, identity and slave history.
For years, Connor enjoyed them as decoration and conversation pieces for her home. Before now, their only viewers were visitors to her home. The works, for which she paid about $10,000, have appreciated significantly in value.
Connor, who said her formal training in aesthetics was limited to a core class requirement in college, feels her Ligon works deserve to be displayed in an appropriate place. “It belongs to the ages now and I’m not comfortable having it anymore,” Connor said. After her mind was made up, she set out to prepare them for a more public viewing, that cost the same as the original purchase: $10,000. The preparation costs were paid for by Connor and went mostly toward professional framing.
In addition to providing the art for the show, Connor curated, helped install, organized supporting lectures and gave public and classroom lectures about the exhibit. Glori Simmons and Amber Dennis of the Thacher Gallery did more than anyone to make this exhibit happen.
Glenn Ligon’s work references famous slave narratives. Connor finds this characteristic intellectually inspiring and continually intriguing. Connor, who earned a Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Virginia in 1991, is particularly interested in literature.
Straightening up her posture and using exaggerated hand movements, she listed authors and historical figures like Toni Morrison and Frederick Douglass to explain the abolitionist movement and the lingering mess slavery left behind.
“What’s especially interesting to me about Glenn and Glenn’s work…he references so directly literary texts in his vision of work,” Connor said. Relaxing into a slightly forward leaning slouch, she continued. “So it just sort of made the perfect connection for me intellectually and thematically and even theologically. You know –what are the ways that we still try to do what literary theologians do? Which is to fight oppression, but in more indirect and subtle ways. We don’t necessarily claim the sort of inspiration from the Divine but nonetheless are part of a kind of spirit of respecting humankind and wanting to make the world better.”
To do good deeds and perform good acts are responsibilities of her faith, but not the sole reason for her passion for liberation theology in literature. “My academic training in the study of religion and the scholarly research agenda that I have in religious studies is distinct from my personal life of faith and the manner in which I recognize a deity in my life. I see the study of religion as an academic and as a questioning human to be fascinating, necessary, and inspiring” Connor wrote.
Connor explained how Glenn Ligon’s work is deeply connected to her as a human being and not just as an academic or an amateur art collector: “It has this spiritual dimension that goes back to the abolitionist movement, but for me as an individual, part of the reason why I was drawn to these works and to liberation theology is because it’s where I locate myself personally in my own life of faith. But
that’s just a little motive; it’s still primarily an intellectual enterprise.”
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