Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal…
OCT 5, 2019 – JAN 12, 2020
Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal… is the first major survey of the work of one of America’s most important conceptual artists. Throughout his career, Hank Willis Thomas (American, born 1976) has fearlessly addressed racism, inequality, and bias in bold, skillfully crafted works. Through photographs, sculpture, video, audience-activated digital animation, and collaborative public art projects, he invites us to consider the role of popular visual culture in perpetuating discrimination and how art can raise critical awareness in the ongoing struggle for social justice and civil rights.
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, the exhibition centers largely on the representation of the black body in American popular culture, both past and present. Thomas incisively exposes, assesses, and reclaims the messages embedded in news photographs, advertising images, slogans, and other prosaic materials, asking audiences to consider the impact of these messages on individual lives and society as a whole.
The exhibition demonstrates Thomas’s inventive exploration of photography, advertising, and modern art and their many sociocultural ramifications. Sections explore gun violence and its toll in the African-American population; the unsettling relationship between the American athletic complex and African American men; the contemporary advertising imagery that perpetuates stereotypes; poetic text-based works that investigate how shifts in context transform meaning; and the transformation of documentary photographs taken during civil-rights demonstrations, apartheid resistance, and other social justice events into sculpture and interactive images forcing viewers to confront history in the present moment. The exhibition extends beyond museum walls and into direct contact with Portlanders through his socially engaged collaborative civic project For Freedoms and the interactive In Search of the Truth (Truth Booth).
Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal… will be a thorough and scholarly—yet purposefully approachable—exhibition that situates the artist’s work within the larger field of American art history while encouraging communities within and beyond the museum space to engage with issues concerning race, difference, and inequality in America through the power of art. After its presentation in Portland, the exhibition will travel to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, and the Cincinnati Art Museum. A comprehensive companion publication, co-published with Aperture, 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).
The exhibition is sponsored in part by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Henry Luce Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, The Collins Foundation, Samuel H. Kress Foundation, The Zidell Family Foundation, Dan Wieden and Priscilla Bernard Wieden.