Hank Willis Thomas: LOVERULES – Announcements

The Henry is pleased to present Hank Willis Thomas: LOVERULES—From the Collections of the Jordan D. Schnitzer Family Foundation, an expansive exhibition of some of the artist’s most iconic works in photography, sculpture, and installation.

Throughout his decades of practice, Thomas has focused on themes relating to commodity, identity, media, and popular culture. Experimenting with mixed media and mass-produced imagery, his work includes photography, sculpture, installation, and large-scale public projects. Originally trained in photography, Thomas employs both archival and contemporary imagery to take on urgent questions: What is the role of art in civic life? How do advertising and visual culture create narratives that shape our notion of value in society?

This exhibition of 90 works, spanning 20 years (2002–22) of Thomas’s oeuvre, features some of the artist’s most iconic and well-known works, including selections from the series B®anded and Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America, as well as an immersively installed grouping from Unbranded: A Century of White Women. In B®anded, Thomas explores and re-contextualizes the history of brand advertising and sponsorship through the alternate definition of physically branding the body. With its uneasy associations with African-American history, this dual meaning highlights the extent to which commercial branding is geared to specific racial groups and seeks to embed particular (often harmful) associations within the ideology of consumerist society. In Unbranded, the artist digitally removes advertising punchlines and logos. Together, these series highlight the consistently dehumanizing strategies of corporate media, the commodification of identity, and how dominant cultural tropes shape notions of race and race relations, along with gender and socio-economic presentation.

The exhibition also highlights Thomas’s mining of personal and public archives and his ability to reframe texts, images, and materials to connect historical moments of resistance to our lives today. For example, a series of prints reference the iconic Civil Rights assertion of Black humanity, I Am A Man, while the wordplay of the works that inspired the exhibition’s title captures the mutability of meaning and the subjective nature of language.

Other lines of connection appear through the use of historical photography in transmuted forms, repurposed fabrics that give contextual weight to seemingly abstract compositions, and sculptural works that both celebrate and investigate the presence of the Black body in contemporary culture. For example, An All Colored Cast brings together references to Minimalist and Color Field painting, in concert with the racial implications of color theory, to highlight the skewed portrayals of gender, race, and identity through the lens of film, performance, and color motion pictures.

Critical awareness, civic engagement, inclusive collaboration, and empathy are among the core invitations of Thomas’s work and are powerful tools for our times. Thomas guides us to the intersection of art, politics, and social justice. With incisive clarity, he asks us to see and challenge systems of inequality that are woven into the fabric of contemporary life.

Hank Willis Thomas: LOVERULES—From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation is organized by Shamim M. Momin, Director of Curatorial Affairs. Lead sponsorship is provided by the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. Generous support is provided by 4Culture and the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture. Media sponsorship is provided by The Seattle Times.

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