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Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal

Hank Willis Thomas, Guernica, 2016. Mixed media including sport jerseys. 131 x 281 inches © Hank Willis Thomas, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal…, is the first comprehensive mid-career survey of the conceptual artist’s career, spanning 20 years of his work. The exhibition features 91 works by Thomas ranging from photography to sculpture, mixed media, paintings, video, and collaborative projects with other artists.

Combining familiar sports and advertising images with histories of art and politics, Thomas examines popular culture and how art can raise awareness in the ongoing struggle for social justice and civil rights. His artistic practice centers on analyzing and dissecting the images and concepts that comprise American culture, with particular attention to race as a construct, gender, and cultural identity. Through his work, Thomas asks his audience to become active participants in acknowledging, reconsidering, and dismantling old ways of thinking that obstruct opportunity, liberty, and inclusion for all people.

“The most revolutionary thing a person can do is be open to change.” – Hank Willis Thomas

The exhibition includes works from his well-known Branded series, Reflections in Black by Corporate America and A Century of White Women from his multi-chapter Unbranded series, sculptures based on archival photographs taken during important twentieth-century political events, early photographic works, quilts constructed from commercial sports jerseys, video installations, collaborative art projects, and more.

Thomas created an original work specifically for the exhibition called 14,719 (2018), commissioned by the Portland Art Museum. The title references the number of stars that have been stitched into 16 28-foot-long blue banners. Each star represents a person shot and killed by someone else in the United States in 2018. While this installation is a memorial to those who have passed, “it also pays homage to the countless loved ones who carry perpetual grief and trauma as unacknowledged victims of gun violence in America,” according to Thomas. The artwork will hang in the south corridor at Crystal Bridges, just outside the exhibition gallery.

“We are honored to showcase the life’s work of one of the most acclaimed contemporary artists of our time here at Crystal Bridges,” said Rod Bigelow, executive director and chief diversity & inclusion officer at Crystal Bridges. “This exhibition comes at an exciting time for us, too. With the opening of the Momentary just around the corner, a satellite art space dedicated to contemporary art, Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal… will underscore the impact that the art of our time can have in fostering public discourse about important issues.”

Thomas’s work has been exhibited throughout the world and can be found in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, among others. He has been an instructor in the MFA program at Yale University and the Maryland Institute College of Art and is a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship award winner. He is also a member of the Public Design Commission for the City of New York and was recently chosen to design Boston’s Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King Memorial, with MASS Design Group.

Thomas holds a BFA from New York University, New York (1998) and an MA/MFA from the California College of the Arts, San Francisco (2004). He received honorary doctorates from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, and the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, Portland, Maine in 2017. His artwork Zero Hour (2012) is part of Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection and his collaborative art installation project called In Search of the Truth (The Truth Booth) made a stop in downtown Bentonville in October 2016. Thomas currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

“Even though Hank has been working diligently for 25 years, he’s just getting started,” said Allison Glenn, associate curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges. “This exhibition is a testament to his masterful ability to ask the hard questions and address larger social issues through art.”

All Things Being Equal… was co-organized at the Portland Art Museum, Oregon by Julia Dolan, The Minor White Curator of Photography, and Sara Krajewski, The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. After its run at Crystal Bridges, the exhibition will travel to the Cincinnati Art Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio (July 10 – October 11, 2020).

For Freedoms and Community Conversations

In 2016, Thomas, along with fellow artist Eric Gottesman, founded For Freedoms, an artist-led organization that focuses on making space for art and civic engagement through exhibitions and community conversations. The idea was inspired by American artist Norman Rockwell’s paintings of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms (1941)—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

In honor of this collaboration, Crystal Bridges will be hosting four Community Conversations in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, and Springdale. Led by a panel of community leaders and artists, these events will focus on one of the Four Freedoms through a series of questions meant to spark conversation and story sharing. More information, dates, locations, and registration for these events can be found here.

Below: Hank Willis Thomas, 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

Opening Week and Programming

The opening week includes the All Things Being Equal… member preview and opening lecture on Friday, February 7 featuring a conversation with the artist himself and his mother: photographer, historian, and MacArthur Genius Deborah Willis. Throughout the duration of the exhibition, Crystal Bridges is offering a full roster of programs inspired by the show. Click HERE for information

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