The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Dec 17, 2013

Talks about the big, brash world of Lyle Ashton Harris

Posted by Anne Tschida

Detail from 'The Watering Hole,' recently acquired by MOMA

The Hot Topics Artist Series at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood (a Knight Challenge grantee) brings in four artists or art professionals a year to give a one-evening lecture, maybe mixed with performance, video or installation. In October the strangeness of Wayne White was featured, known for his word paintings, his music and his art direction of music videos and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Last Friday, the Center invited Lyle Ashton Harris, mostly known for his photo collages and simple portraits that address issues of race, sexual identity and pop iconography. He has several works in the newly opened PAMM right now.

It was a good choice.

While some of the topics can seems heavy, he is an entertaining speaker who loved to engage with the audience this night. He has been described as “teasing the viewer” with his imagery. But he liked to tease the viewer in person as well. He kicked off the evening with a performance video where he’s wearing a diaper and white face mask, his body painted, interacting with an audience in a college classroom. It is disturbing but also funny as he climbs around the chairs and the people.

Lyle Ashton Harris Lyle Ashton Harris.

He also presented slides of his Polaroids, very intimate views of friends and relatives. His collages include poster images of soccer and boxing stars, Billie Holiday, and most often Michael Jackson, the superstar who morphed race and gender. The New York City native spent his youth in Tanzania, and then spent years in Ghana, so his works also are a mix and mash of cultures. One of his most famous works, a nine-panel collage series called "The Watering Hole," was just acquired by MOMA in New York. Harris had tales to tell about all these stops and acquaintances in his life. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the acoustics of a big exhibition space like this one, it was sometimes hard to hear; and some of the images on the front screen were hard to see if sitting near the back. But Harris is a perfect fit for what the Hot Topics series has intended to bring to South Florida — out-of-the-box, engaging talks that keep us in the loop with the rest of the country.

Andea Zittel, the artist who makes model, eco-friendly rooms and works closely with the land and environment, will kick off  Hot Topics 2014 on Feb. 8.

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