About the Photographer
Harris, Lyle Ashton
American, b. 1965 Bronx, NY
Conceptual artist Lyle Ashton Harris uses still photography, video, and performance to challenge widespread perceptions of race, gender, and sexuality through impactful depictions of individual or multiple figures. In his series, Good Life (1994), a well-known photograph titled Brotherhood, Crossroads and Etcetera #2, features two “black queer cultural producers,” as Harris describes himself and his brother, nude and exchanging a kiss while one digs a gun into the other’s chest. Harris first came to prominence when Thelma Golden included this image along with other large-format Polaroids from the same series in the exhibition she curated at the Whitney Museum of Art in 1994 Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art.
In Watering Hole (1998), a large-scale photomontage, Harris continues to interrogate aspects of the contemporary cultural landscape. This work is organized around a newspaper photograph of a black man massaging the leg of a French soccer player, which the artist felt strongly evoked Manet’s iconic 1863 painting, Olympia and raised for him a set of considerations about race and power. Harris expands his interest in photomontage and the cultural narratives they question and critique with Blow Up (2004), a colorful and lively wall collage exhibited at the Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago, which he follows with additional iterations.
Blow Up II (Armory) Detail, from the America: Now and Here portfolio, held in the collection of the MoCP, is a 2005 installation detail of one of Harris’ constructed photomontages from the New York Armory Show the same year. It captures a portion of a large wall collage made of ephemera including cut out articles, Post-it notes, exhibition announcements and a candy wrapper. Identifiable objects within the image include a fragment of a version of Harris’ Better Days #2 (2002), along with reproductions of a printed work by the conceptual artist Glenn Ligon, and a 19th century portrait photograph of Fredrick Douglass. Random statements on post-it notes read “I’m anorexic” and “I’m hungry” while a paper invitation to the Studio Museum of Harlem’s event for Harris speaks directly to the artist’s career. Other pieces of the collage are images suggestive of art historical themes and tropes: the modernist depiction of a woman, the African tribal object, and the reoriented American flag.
Blow Up II (Armory) is one of thirteen prints featured in America: Now and Here a 2009 portfolio produced in conjunction with a traveling exhibition of the same name. The portfolio’s introductory essay A Calamity of Heart was written by E.L.Doctorow and commissioned by the project’s curator Eric Fischl serves as a kind of wall text to introduce us to the works by artists Ross Bleckner, Chuck Close, Ralph Gibson, April Gornik, Sally Mann, Vik Muniz, Lou Reed, David Salle, Andres Serrano, Laurie Simmons, and Bill Viola. It also reiterates the project’s larger goal of starting a dialogue about identity in post 9/11 America in communities around the country. The introduction reads as a call to action in restoring a lost sense of public advocacy for civil liberties and expressive freedom. Considered amongst the other portfolio images, Blow Up II illustrates the range of visual tools artists might use to explore the complex and multifaceted nature of identity.
Born 1965, Lyle Ashton Harris grew up in New York City and Tanzania. He completed a BA from Wesleyan University (1988) and an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts (1990). His works has been exhibited widely in venues including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the 52nd Venice Biennale. He currently serves as an assistant professor in the Department of Art and Art Professions at New York University and divides his time between New York and Accra, Ghana.