Ektachrome Archive 1986-96: Part I – Recovering Identity and Desire

Lyle Ashton Harris
April 10 - May 30, 2015

Talk by Dr. Alpesh K. Patel, Ph.D.
Followed by Q&A, Dr. Patel & Lyle Ashton Harris
Friday, April 10, 7 PM
Opening reception Friday, April 10, 8-10 PM


David Castillo Gallery is proud to present a solo exhibition by Lyle Ashton Harris, Ektachrome Archive 1986-96: Part I – Recovering Identity and Desire.
Shown for the first time, this exhibition of thirty-four chromogenic prints selected from the artist’s personal archive of 35mm Ektachrome color reversal slides represents a unique document of ephemeral moments and emblematic figures shot in the 1980s and 1990s against a backdrop of seismic shifts in the art world, the emergence of multiculturalism, the second wave of AIDS activism, and incipient globalization.


Poignantly evoking a time when the contemporary art scene, the black community and the gay community were becoming increasingly imbricated, these candid images reveal the spontaneous gaze of a young artist sensitive to the power of the photographic medium to memorialize life’s transiency, long before the invention of the selfie.


With unassuming candor, this selection of works portrays a close circle of the artist’s friends, acquaintances and lovers, including many notable luminaries then on the cusp of ascendency, such as the photographers Nan Goldin and Catherine Opie, artists Glenn Ligon and Renée Cox, MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach, writers bell hooks and Essex Hemphill, filmmakers Isaac Julian, John Akomfrah, and the artist’s brother, Thomas Allen Harris. Punctuated by uncontrived self-portraits and intimate still lifes, the artist’s disarming images span encounters in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Martha’s Vineyard, London, Berlin, Rome and Venice to offer reminiscent glimpses that foreshadow the blurring of one’s public and private life in contemporary cyberculture.


As Charlotte Cotton, critic and former curator of photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London) as well as the Wallis Annenberg Department of Photographs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, writes in The Photograph as Contemporary Art (World of Art): “Harris makes a map of visual and ideological connections . . . blending high criticality and personal narrative to suggest that all photography inherently carries representational meaning beyond the intent or making of the photographer.”


The photographs in this exhibition serve not only to memorialize, but also to reactivate lived moments at the intersection of the personal and the political, through the prism of self-reflexive documentation by a mature artist, re-engaging time past to actively impact the present.


Culled from the artist’s archive of hundreds of color slides originally shot using Ektachrome film (which Kodak discontinued in 2013), Harris initially presented selections from his archive publicly as digital projections at Yale University, as well as in conjunction with the exhibition Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery and the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2013-14. A subsequent presentation of archive selections as projected images with accompanying musical mash-up took place at the Guggenheim Museum’s “Past Tense/Future Perfect” performative event, produced to accompany the exhibition Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of World AIDS Day, a digital video version of selections of Harris’s archive was commissioned by Visual AIDS for Day With(out) Art in 2014 (available for viewing online at https://vimeo.com/112420518).


For almost three decades Lyle Ashton Harris has cultivated a diverse artistic practice, ranging from photographic media, collage, installation and performance, to explore the impact of desire, ethnicity, and gender in the contemporary social and cultural dynamic. Known for his self-portraits and use of pop culture icons (such as Billie Holiday and Michael Jackson), Harris teases viewers’ perceptions and expectations, resignifying cultural cursors, and recalibrating the familiar with the extraordinary. His work has been exhibited internationally, including at the 52nd Venice Biennale, and is in collections of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA, New York), the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA, Los Angeles), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (MUSAC). His commissioned work has been featured in an extensive range of publications, including The New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker and, most recently, Aperture. Born in the Bronx, New York, Harris spent his formative years in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, and studied at Wesleyan University, the California Institute of the Arts, and the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program. He is currently an Associate Professor at New York University and serves on the Board of Trustees of the American Academy in Rome, for which he will be co-curating with Robert Storr and Peter Benson Miller a group exhibition titled Nero su Bianco, opening May 2015.

Lyle Ashton Harris