What makes for a collectible gallery announcement card? The key quality is a powerful iconic image by a well-known artist that evokes the concerns of the particular time the exhibition took place. Lyle Ashton Harris’ 1997 invitation card clearly fits the bill with its compelling picture of two sexually ambiguous black youths from his White Face Series. It perfectly encapsulates the 1990s art-world trends concerning sexual and race identity — issues that continue to resonate today.
The back of the announcement card identifies Harris as a “visual precursor” of this “cultural discourse” and explains the purpose of his White Face photographs: “Inviting multilayered readings, Harris presents iconic images that metaphorically transgress traditional concepts of both sexual and racial identity. Understood as social and cultural (rather than biological) constructions, conventional definitions of gender and ethnicity are blurred.”
Harris created the White Face Series when he was still a young art student in the mid-1980s, but only began exhibiting them in the 1990s when he obtained gallery representation after his inclusion in Thelma Golden’s groundbreaking exhibition Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art at the Whitney Museum (1994/1995).
Harris’ 1997 exhibition at the Thomas Erben Gallery was the first that featured the full White Face Series, although some of these photographs were included in earlier exhibitions. Most recently images from this series were featured in the Guggenheim Museum exhibition Implicit Tensions (2019/2020).