New York Times
September 8th, 2005
Lyle Ashton Harris
The Watering Hole
Jack Tilton Gallery, 49 Greene Street, SoHo, Through Oct. 5
In his second solo show in two years, Lyle Ashton Harris is taking himself out of the picture, moving beyond portraiture and self-portraiture and treating the theme of black homosexuality in less autobiographical terms. There is an incendiary power to this new work, even if the wattage is not entirely his own.
One wall is covered with photographic wallpaper that brings to mind Robert Gober: a pattern derived from repeating images of the artist, posed like a graceful sand vulnerable gazelle over a watering hole. Opposite is a series of new photographs that take a down home, down-in-the-basement approach to appropriation: they are bulletin-board composites of images and notes pinned and taped to faux-wood rec-room paneling and then rephotographed, usually with lurid lighting.
The subject here is exoticism and its dangers, especially where the object of fascination is concerned. Mr. Harris traces the fascination with the black male in nearly rebus- like progressions through anthropology to sports and advertising, to the pornography industry and finally, in nearly every piece, to Jeffrey Dahmer, who preyed largely on minority teen-age boys. It is a line that in front of these works can often feel distressingly unbroken.
Mr. Harris’s somewhat scary patchwork style trades too heavily in sensational images and is also redolent of other artists, from 19th- century trompe-l’oeil painting through Johns and Rauschenberg to David Salle. Still, Mr. Harris gets credit for moving on and for continuing his effort to communicate the political in primarily visual terms.