Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal…
OCT 12, 2019 – JAN 12, 2020
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.
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 approximately 100 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 will support 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 27, 2020), and to the Cincinnati Museum of Art in Cincinnati, Ohio (July 10 – September 27, 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. This exhibition is sponsored in part by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; The Henry Luce Foundation; The National Endowment for the Arts; The Collins Foundation; Samuel H. Kress Foundation; The Zidell Family Foundation; Ed Cauduro Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation; Dan Wieden and Priscilla Bernard Wieden; The Arnold & Augusta Newman Foundation; and Exhibition Series Sponsors.
His collaborative projects include Question Bridge: Black Males, In 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.