In these shadows
Lyle Ashton Harris
David Castillo presents In these shadows, an exhibition of Lyle Ashton Harris’s unique “shadow” dye sublimation works which situate photographs from the artist’s vast archive within richly textured assemblages. This body of work was first presented with David Castillo at Art Basel in 2017. This exhibition marks the first solo presentation of this body of work in the United States. The works are all new, made within the last months.
Harris’s Shadow Works are seeded from a prodigious personal archive of thousands of images (color and black-and-white photographs as well as prints from 35mm Ektachrome slides), including family snapshots, handwritten notes, newspaper clippings, artwork reproductions—all shot and compiled by the artist over four decades.
These collective works document a portrait of the artist through the traces of his prolific artistic practice. At times pictured within his work and at times not, Harris locates himself within this history through the faces of the subjects captured in these scenes and the locales he found himself, spanning the awakening of his sexuality, youthful romantic obsessions, his earliest photographic practice, and moments shared with friends, lovers, activists, and members of the wider LGBTQ community in a range of intimate and public settings.
The artist combines images, personal ephemera, documents and mementos into dense wall collages in his studio, and variously overlays these groupings with colored gels and letters stenciled in paint, constellating forms and juxtaposing images in renewed and overlapping contexts that bring at times disparate threads from throughout the artist’s life and career into contact. These ephemeral collages are then photographed, serving to document the new frames of reference into which each element has been cast. Residual in nature, the resulting photographic compositions evoke the fleeting shadows of memory traces and serve as the centerpieces of these Shadow Works, living memorials that conjure the artist’s rich, complex life and the intersectional histories that inform his practice.
In their formal elements, these works can be seen as abstract personifications of Harris himself. Each piece is fitted within a frame lined in vibrantly printed and woven textiles—patterned with traditional West African motifs—that the artist acquired when he lived in Ghana intermittently from 2005 to 2012. Many of these fabrics were gifted to Harris, others purchased, but each is situated within transatlantic histories that fuse personal, cultural, and political circumstances. The piece Succession (2020) is inset with a shard of pottery, Yamantaka (2020) with seashells, and Double Gasper (2020) and Kennedy Crash #2 (2020) include dreadlocks cut from Harris’s own head. Challenging viewers to mine their profuse subject matter and explore the narrative clues visually woven into each piece, these assemblages evince a distinct treatment of the past filtered through the artist himself and his role as both the subject and catalyst of his body of work.
Accompanying In these shadows is the first presentation of Dawnscape (2010) in the United States. Dawnscape is a meditative, 23-minute video study of the breaking dawn through the artist’s window. Shot while Harris lived in Ghana, and corresponding with the period when the artist first began collecting the fabrics that comprise his Shadow Works, the video captures a real-time scene of flickering lights, electrical wires and trees swaying in the wind during an early morning storm. The work offers an expressive and melancholy context which situates Harris’s work within this personal geography.
In these shadows is presented at David Castillo concurrently with Lyle Ashton Harris: Ektachrome Archive, an exhibition of the artist’s documentary photographs and journals at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, which runs from September 23, 2020 through May 31, 2021. The Ektachrome works were first exhibited at David Castillo in 2015 after being a stored archive for decades. The Ektachrome Archive would go on to be exhibited at the Whitney Biennial and the Sao Paulo Biennial among numerous other venues. Lyle Ashton Harris: Ektachrome Archive is the first project in a new initiative by ICA Miami inviting artists to engage in dialogue with Robert Gober’s Untitled (1994–95), on long-term view on the museum’s ground floor. Lyle Ashton Harris: Ektachrome Archive is organized by ICA Miami and curated by Gean Moreno.
Harris’s work has been exhibited internationally including “Photography’s Last Century” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; in “Basquiat’s ‘Defacement’: The Untold Story’’ and “Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; in “United by AIDS” at Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich; in “Kiss My Genders” at the Haywood Gallery, London; in “Tell Me Your Story” at Kunsthal KaDE, Amersfoort, NL; in “Elements of Vogue” at the Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid (traveled to Museo Universitario del Chopo, Mexico City). Harris’s work was included in the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007), the Busan Biennial, South Korea (2008), the Bienal de São Paulo (2016), the Whitney Biennial (2017), and presented by Cinéma Du Réel at the Centre Pompidou, Paris (2018).
Harris is represented in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; the Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Pérez Art Museum, Miami; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Tate Modern, London, UK; Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, Spain; Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich, Switzerland, among others.
Harris received a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2016), the David C. Driskell Prize from the High Museum of Art, Atlanta (2014), and the Rome Prize Fellowship (2000) among other awards and honors. Harris joined the Board of Trustees of the American Academy in Rome in 2014, he was appointed a trustee of the Tiffany Foundation in 2016, and he joined the board of directors of the nonprofit arts organization Boffo in 2020. Born in the Bronx, New York, raised in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and New York, Harris obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wesleyan University, a Master of Fine Arts degree from the California Institute of the Arts, and attended the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program. Harris is a Professor of Art at New York University and lives in New York.