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Under the guidance of Brooklyn, NY-based artist Glenn Ligon, members of the Walker Art Center's Teen Arts Council were challenged to create projects based on images and concepts found in works of art in the museum's collection. During the first part of Ligon's residency, he created pieces using typography and images from book covers in the Givens Collection of African American Literature at the University of Minnesota. He then used music and his artwork to introduce the teens to the concept of "sampling" — that is, using found material and recombining it in various ways to create a new message.

Glenn Ligon with WACTAC members

"I wanted them to use form and ideas from two or three different works of art as the basis for their own creations, a concept I thought they'd be familiar with from listening to rap music," Ligon explains. "At the same time, I hoped to use them as a resource to further my own thinking."

The teens created pieces based on such artists as Lucio Fontana, Andy Warhol, Charles Ray and Kara Walker. Although they wanted to launch right into making art, Ligon and Teen Program director Christi Atkinson worked closely with them in a process that began with research into understanding their chosen artists' backgrounds, intent, messages and the historical contexts in which they worked.

"We had many discussions that grew out of viewing powerfully controversial work, talks about the function of artwork, whether form influences content and what is an artist's moral responsibility," says Ligon. "I was surprised to see how incredibly smart they were when it came to talking about art as a way of thinking. We were very quickly able to get beyond 'it looks pretty' to the ideas behind a work. And because they weren't artists and didn't think conventionally about materials, the results were quite surprising."

Ligon was available to the teens for consultation as they created their projects at home, using their own supplies, in processes that grew out of many trial-and-error efforts and opened many eyes.

"Working with Glenn changed the way I looked at art and helped me figure out what I want to do with my own art," said Eric Luken, now a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, who created a series of silkscreen prints based on Andy Warhol's 16 Jackies.

Eric Luken 16 JonBenéts, 2000 screenprint on canvas. Artist-in-Residence: Glenn Ligon

After their pieces were complete, the teens wrote labels that describe the evolution of their ideas, what they were trying to accomplish and the materials they used. The results were so successful, the Walker exhibited the teens' creations along with Ligon's own work in its Andersen Window Gallery, a space designed to make both the artistic and curatorial processes more transparent to viewers.

"Their work was extremely well executed and went way beyond what I thought they were capable of," explains museum director Kathy Halbreich. "This was the first time the museum exhibited the teens' work, but because of the context of this project, in tandem with the work of the artist in residence, it had to be shown."