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Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal…

Oct 12, 2019 - Jan 12, 2020
1219 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR
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Throughout his career, Hank Willis Thomas (American, born 1976) has addressed the visual systems that perpetuate inequality and bias in bold, skillfully crafted works. Through photographs, sculpture, video, and collaborative public art projects, he invites us to consider the role of popular culture in instituting discrimination and how art can raise critical awareness in the ongoing struggle for social justice and civil rights.

This fall, the Portland Art Museum is honored to present the first major retrospective of this important artist’s work. Organized by the Portland Art Museum and co-curated by Julia Dolan, Ph.D., The Minor White Curator of Photography, and Sara Krajewski, The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal…features more than 90 works including early photographic series, recent sculptures based on archival photographs taken during historic 20th-century events, quilts constructed from commercial sports jerseys and prison uniforms, video installations, interactive two-dimensional and time-based works, and public art projects. In addition, the Museum has supported the creation of a new and monumental flag-based work addressing lives lost to gun violence in the United States in 2018 that will serve as the entry point to the exhibition.

Following its presentation in Portland, the exhibition will travel to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas (February 8 – April 20, 2020), and to the Cincinnati Art Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio (July 10 – October 11, 2020).

“Hank Willis Thomas deftly confronts the most critical issues facing us today—racism, violence, inequality, injustice—through a range of visually dynamic, approachable artworks,” said Curator of Photography Julia Dolan. “His photographs, sculptures, and interactive media installations encourage thoughtful inquiry; they challenge viewers to acknowledge histories of struggle and the damaging legacies of oppressive systems without losing sight of the hope for meaningful change. The exhibition traces Thomas’s multi-decade commitment to exploring that which divides us. It also forefronts his belief that confronting and acknowledging our collective past can help move us forward in constructive and collaborative ways.”

The many works included in All Things Being Equal… demonstrate Thomas’s inventive exploration of photography, advertising, and modern art and their many sociocultural ramifications. The exhibition groups art works thematically to illuminate subjects that Thomas has treated with sensitive nuance throughout his career, including the human toll of gun violence, the impact of corporate branding and the commodification of individuals, and the ways advertising plays to myths and stereotypes of race. The exhibition also highlights Thomas’s investigation of archival images from many sources and how he has applied strategies of appropriating and reframing texts, images, and materials to connect historical moments of resistance and protest to our lives today as a call to continue moving toward greater social justice.

Portland Art Museum visitors and passersby have already interacted with Thomas’s work—first in 2016’s In Search of the Truth (Truth Booth), a traveling collective work with artists Ryan Alexiev, Jim Ricks and Will Sylvester, inviting audiences to complete the sentence “The Truth Is…” while being videotaped, and more recently with the For Freedoms 50 States Initiative banners promoting voting in the 2018 mid-term elections.

“Hank Willis Thomas is an artist who works in multiple mediums, including collaborative projects. Our For Freedoms partnership gave museum-goers a preview of his deeply human-centered approach, grounded in respecting each individual’s voice and seeing each person as a whole being, not a stereotype or an ‘other,’” said Sara Krajewski, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “In both his solo work and his collaborations, Thomas asks us to reframe our perceptions of race, politics, history, and popular culture so that we can better understand and combat the systems that dehumanize us.”

A comprehensive publication accompanies the exhibition. Co-published with Aperture in 2018, the book features essays by the exhibition’s co-curators, as well as new scholarship by Professor Sarah Lewis (Harvard University), and an interview with the artist by Dr. Kellie Jones (Columbia University).

Organized by the Portland Art Museum and co-curated by Julia Dolan, Ph.D., The Minor White Curator of Photography, and Sara Krajewski, The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

Hank Willis Thomas' artwork The Cotton Bowl, from the series Strange Fruit
Hank Willis Thomas (American, born 1976). The Cotton Bowl, from the series Strange Fruit, 2011. Digital c-print. 50 x 73 inches. © Hank Willis Thomas, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

About the artist

Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976, Plainfield, N.J.; lives and works in Brooklyn, N.Y.) is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective identity, commodity, media, and popular culture.His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and abroad including the International Center of Photography, New York; Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain; Musée du quai Branly, Paris; Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong, and the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Netherlands. Solo exhibitions of his work have been featured at SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, Ga.; California African American Museum, Los Angeles; Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, Philadelphia; Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Va.; Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio; The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky.; The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Conn.; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Md.; Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Mo., and the African American Museum, Philadelphia, among others.

His collaborative projects include Question Bridge: Black MalesIn Search Of The Truth (The Truth Booth), and For Freedoms. In 2017, For Freedoms was awarded the ICP Infinity Award for New Media and Online Platform. Thomas is a recipient of the Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship (2019), Guggenheim Fellowship (2018), Art for Justice Grant (2018), AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize (2017), Soros Equality Fellowship (2017), Aperture West Book Prize (2008), Renew Media Arts Fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation (2007), and the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship Award (2006).

He is also a member of the Public Design Commission for the City of New York. Thomas holds a B.F.A. from New York University, New York (1998) and an M.A./M.F.A. from the California College of the Arts, San Francisco (2004). He received honorary doctorates from the Maryland Institute of Art, Baltimore, and the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, Portland, Maine, in 2017.

In 2017, the artist unveiled his permanent public artwork “Love Over Rules” in San Francisco and “All Power to All People” in Opa Locka, Fla. Thomas was recently chosen to design Boston’s Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King Memorial, with MASS Design Group.


HANK WILLIS THOMAS in Critical Conversation
Cover of An Altar to Alter zine
An Altar to Alter zine
Cover of Hank Willis Thomas' "All Things Being Equal..." resources
Educational resources
Hank Willis Thomas' artwork I Am. Amen.
Hank Willis Thomas (American, born 1976), I Am. Amen., 2009. Liquitex on canvas, 25 1/4 × 19 × 1/4 × 2 1/4 inches each. Installation view. Collection of Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University. Image courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. © Hank Willis Thomas
Prompts for students on self-guided visits
Hank Willis Thomas' artwork Black Righteous Space
Hank Willis Thomas (American, born 1976), Black Righteous Space, 2012. Interactive video, dimensions variable. Installation view. Private Collection. Image courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. © Hank Willis Thomas
Lessons and questions for teaching
Hank Willis Thomas' artwork We The People,
Hank Willis Thomas (American, born 1976). We The People, 2015. Quilt made out of decommissioned prison uniforms. 73 1/4 x 88 1/4 inches. © Hank Willis Thomas, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Mindful inquiry with Hank Willis Thomas


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  • Acknowledgments

    Presenting Sponsor

    The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

    Lead Sponsors

    • Henry Luce Foundation
    • National Endowment for the Arts
    • The Collins Foundation

    Major Sponsors

    • Samuel H. Kress Foundation
    • The Zidell Family Foundation
    • Spencer Noecker and Cambria Benson Noecker
    • Community Catalyst Initiative
    • Exhibition Series Sponsors


    • Contemporary Art Council of the Portland Art Museum
    • The Jackson Foundation
    • Travel Portland
    • Ed Cauduro Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation
    • McGeady Family Foundation
    • Dan Wieden and Priscilla Bernard Wieden
    • The Clark Foundation


    • adidas
    • Arnold and Augusta Newman Foundation
    • hivemodern.com
    • LookModern
    • Photo Council of the Portland Art Museum
    • Jordan Schnitzer
    • Jack Shainman Gallery
    • Elizabeth Leach Gallery


    Helina and Al-Fraouq Aminu, Linda and Scott Andrews, Amjad and Helen Bangash, Deborah Bergman, Donald and Mary Blair, Lisa Domenico Brooke and Bing Bingham, Blake and Mark Bruun, Karie Burch, Mary and Spencer Dick, Ambassador Gordon D. Sondland and Ms. Katherine J. Durant, Lana and Christian Finley, Ryan and Mary Finley, Jill and Tony Garvey, Suzanne Geary, Alix and Thomas Goodman, John Goodwin, Greg Kucera, Jordan Schnitzer, Sara Krajewski, Kathleen Lewis, Elizabeth Lilley, Cyndy and Edward Maletis, Jay and Tonia Mason, Shawn and Albert Menashe, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew J. Meigs, Nathan Sasaki, Grace Serbu, Angela and Rex Snow, Vanessa Sturgeon, Lisa Goodman and Josef Vascovitz, Jim and Susan Winkler.