Crystal Bridges features Hank Willis Thomas exhibit

Hank Willis Thomas, The Cotton Bowl, from the series Strange Fruit, 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on Saturday opened a new temporary exhibition featuring 91 works by conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas.

Organized by the Portland Art Museum, “Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal…” showcases works ranging from photography to sculpture, mixed media, paintings, video, and collaborative projects with other artists. It is the first comprehensive mid-career survey of the conceptual artist’s career, spanning 20 years of his work.

Thomas combines familiar sports and advertising images with histories of art and politics to examine popular culture and how art can raise awareness in the struggle for social justice and civil rights.

His piece “14,719” was created specifically for the exhibition, and includes 14,719 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. It hangs in the south corridor at the museum, just outside the exhibition gallery.

From Crystal Bridges:

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.

Hank Willis Thomas, Guernica, 2016. / Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York 

The exhibition also includes works from his 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’s work can be found at 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 other locations. 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.

Hank Willis Thomas, Branded Head, from the series B®anded, 2003