Hank Willis Thomas

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Hank Willis Thomas
Born (1976-03-17) March 17, 1976 (age 41)
Plainfield, New Jersey
Nationality American
Alma mater MFA/MA California College of the Arts,
BFA Tisch School of the Arts

Hank Willis Thomas (born March 17, 1976 in Plainfield, New Jersey) is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to identity, history and popular culture. His work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. and abroad including, the International Center of Photography, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Musée du quai Branly, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Thomas’ work is in numerous public collections including the Museum of Modern Art New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the High Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, among others. His collaborative projects include Question Bridge: Black Males, In Search Of The Truth (The Truth Booth), and For Freedoms which Thomas co-founded in 2016 as the first artist-run super PAC. For Freedoms was recently awarded the 2017 ICP Infinity Award for New Media and Online Platform. Thomas is also the recipient of the 2017 Soros Equality Fellowship. Current and upcoming exhibitions include Prospect 4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp in New Orleans and Freedom Isn’t Always Beautiful at Savannah College of Art and Design Museum. Thomas is a member of the Public Design Commission for the City of New York. He received a BFA in Photography and Africana studies from New York University and a MFA/MA in Photography and Visual Criticism from the California College of Arts. He has also received honorary doctorates from the Maryland Institute of Art and the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. Thomas lives and works in New York City.


Thomas received a Master of Fine Arts in Photography and a Master of Arts in Visual Criticism from California College of the Arts (CCA) in 2004.[1] He also received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography and Africana Studies from New York University (NYU), Tisch School of the Arts in 1998.[1]


Hank Thomas is the winner of the first ever Aperture West Book Prize for his monograph Pitch Blackness (November, 2008). His work has been featured in other publications including Reflections in Black (Norton, 2000), and the exhibitions along with accompanying publications 25 under 25: Up-and-Coming American Photographers (CDS, 2003), and 30 Americans (RFC, 2008).[2]

Thomas had solo exhibitions at the Lisa Dent Gallery in 2004[3] and 2006.[4] Since then he has exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the U.S. and abroad, including Galerie Anne De Villepoix in Paris; the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg; MoMA PS1 in Queens; the Studio Museum in Harlem; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; San Francisco; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut; Roberts & Tilton gallery in Culver City, California; The Gantt Center in Charlotte, North Carolina; The Bronx Museum, Bronx, New York; Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, Jamaica, New York; Artists Space, New York; Leica Gallery, New York; Texas Woman’s University; Oakland Museum of California; Smithsonian; Anacostia Museum, Washington, D.C.; Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at NYU; National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.; and National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., High Museum, Atlanta, and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, among others.[citation needed]

Thomas’ work is in numerous public collections including The Whitney Museum of American Art, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, the Brooklyn Museum, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Museum of Fine Art in Houston. His collaborative projects have been featured at the Sundance Film Festival and installed publicly at the Oakland International Airport, The Oakland Museum of California and the University of California, San Francisco. Recent exhibitions include Dress Codes: The International Center for Photography’s Triennial of Photography and Video, Greater New York at P.S. 1/MoMa, Contact Toronto Photography Festival and Houston Fotofest.[citation needed]

Thomas explores the representation of the African-American male body in visual culture in his B(r)anded Series.[5][6] Writing in The Guardian, critic Arwa Mahdawi observed: "Thomas’s work 'unbrands' advertising: stripping away the commercial context, and leaving the exposed image to speak for itself."[7]

Thomas is working on the long-term and global public art project "In Search of the Truth". Also known as The Truth Booth it is in collaboration with Ryan Alexiev, Jim Ricks, and Will Sylvester, all members of Cause Collective.[8][9]. The New York Times writes: "The “Truth Booth,” [is] a roving, inflatable creation by a group of artists calling itself the Cause Collective. The booth, in the shape of a cartoon word bubble with “TRUTH” in bold letters on its side, serves as a video confessional. Visitors are asked to sit inside and finish the politically and metaphysically loaded sentence that begins, “The truth is …”" [10]. To date, the project has travelled Ireland, Afghanistan, South Africa, Australia, and the United States.

Thomas has acted as a visiting professor at CCA and in the MFA programs at Maryland Institute College of Art and ICP/Bard and has lectured at Yale University, Princeton University, the Birmingham Museum of Art and the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.

He received a new media fellowship through the Tribeca Film Institute and was an artist in residence at Johns Hopkins University.[2] He is currently a DuBois Institute Fellow at Harvard University.

Thomas is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery in New York.


Thomas's mother, Deborah Willis, Ph.D., is an art photographer and an NYU professor. She was a 2005 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2000 MacArthur Fellow and one of the nation's leading historians of African-American photography and curator of African-American culture. His father, also Hank Thomas, is a jazz musician, film producer, real estate developer and stock broker.[citation needed]

Selected Exhibitions[edit]

Solo / Two-Person[edit]


  • Freedom Isn't Always Beautiful and Blind Memory, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA
  • Unbranded: A Century of White Women, 1915 - 2015, York College Galleries, York, PA


  • Evidence of Things Not Seen, Kadist, San Francisco, CA
  • Unbranded: A Century of White Women, 1915 - 2015, Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NC


  • The Truth is I See You, PublicArtFund, Metrotech, Brooklyn, New York
  • In The Box: Hank Willis Thomas, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA




  • What Goes Without Saying, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY
  • Hank Willis Thomas: Believe It, SCAD Galleries, La Galerie Pfriem, Lacoste


  • Strange Fruit, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Scouring the Earth for My Affinity, Samson Projects, Boston, MA


  • Hank Willis Thomas, Galerie Anne De Villepoix, Paris, France
  • All Things Being Equal..., Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa




  • Third Space / Shifting Conversations About Art, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL
  • AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada
  • All Things Being Equal..., Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Prospect 4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, New Orleans, LA




  • Speaking of People: Ebony, Jet and Contemporary Art, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
  • Historias Mezticas, Instituto Tomie Ohtake, Sao Paulo, Brasil



  • Greater New York 2010, PS1, Queens, NY
  • 3rd World Festival of Black Arts ad Culture, Dakar, Senegal
  • CONTACT Toronto Photography Festival, Toronto, Canada


  • 1969, PS1, New York, NY
  • ICP Triennial: Dress Codes, ICP, New York, NY
  • 30 Americans: Rubell Family Collection, Rubell Family Collection, various venues



  • Willis, Deborah, Hank Willis Thomas, and Kalia Brooks. Progeny: Deborah Willis and Hank Willis Thomas. New York: Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, 2009. ISBN 978-1-884919-23-7
  • Thomas, Hank Willis, René De Guzman, and Robin D G Kelley. Pitch Blackness. New York: Aperture, 2008. ISBN 978-1-59711-072-3
  • Harney, Elizabeth, editor. Flava: Wedge Curatorial Projects 1997-2007. Toronto: Wedge Curatorial Projects, 2008. Page 131. ISBN 978-0-9783370-0-1
  • Rhoden, William C. Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete. New York: Crown Publishers, 2006. Page 182. ISBN 0-609-60120-2
  • Thomas, Hank Willis, Kambui Olujimi, and Carla Williams. Winter in America. San Francisco: 81 Press, 2006. ISBN 0-9777336-0-2
  • Armstrong, Elizabeth, Rita Gonzalez, and Karen Moss. California Biennial 2006. Newport Beach, CA: Orange County Museum of Art, 2006. Pages 152-5. ISBN 0-917493-42-7
  • Murray, D.C. "Hank Willis Thomas at Lisa Dent." Art in America. December 2006: p. 165.
  • Dawsey, Jill. "Hank Willis Thomas." Artforum.com, March 2006.
  • Golden, Thelma, and Christine Y. Kim. Frequency. New York: Studio Museum in Harlem, 2005. Pages 7, 88-89. ISBN 0-942949-30-7
  • Bing, Alison. "Image Consciousness." SFGate.com, 28 October 2004: p. 78.
  • Willis, Deborah. Black: a Celebration of a Culture. Irvington, NY: Hylas Publishing, 2004. Pages 221, 230, 290. ISBN 1-59258-051-3
  • Addo, Ping-Ann. Pieces of Cloth, Pieces of Culture: Tapa from Tonga & the Pacific Islands. Oakland, CA: Center for Art and Public Life, California College of the Arts, 2004.
  • Hill, Iris Tillman. 25 Under 25: Up-and-Coming American Photographers. Brooklyn, NY: powerHouse Books in association with the Center for Documentary Studies, 2003. ISBN 1-57687-192-4
  • Gore, Al, and Tipper Gore. The Spirit of Family. New York: Henry Holt, 2002. Pages 14–5. ISBN 0-8050-6894-5
  • M.I.L.K. Project. Friendship: a Celebration of Humanity. New York, NY: Morrow, 2001. ISBN 0-06-620970-6
  • Willis, Deborah. Reflections in Black: a History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000. Pages 257-8, 277. ISBN 0-393-04880-2
  • Carroll, Rebecca. Sugar in the Raw: Voices of Young Black Girls in America. New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1997. Cover. ISBN 0-517-88497-6
  • Cottman, Michael H, Deborah Willis, and Linda Tarrant-Reid. The Family of Black America. New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1996. Pages 122-6. ISBN 0-517-88822-X
  • Cottman, Michael H, and Deborah Willis. Million Man March. New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1995. Pages 13, 39, 81. ISBN 0-517-88763-0


  1. ^ a b "Hank Willis Thomas". Beth Schiffer Creative Darkroom. Retrieved 2016-04-07. 
  2. ^ a b http://www.hankwillisthomas.com
  3. ^ "Featuring contemporary artists 2004". Lisa Dent Gallery. Retrieved 2016-04-07. 
  4. ^ "Featuring contemporary artists 2006". Lisa Dent Gallery. Retrieved 2016-04-07. 
  5. ^ Dutra, Robyn. "The New Regime: Hank Willis Thomas." Black Book, December 4, 2008. Accessed August 4, 2009.
  6. ^ Davis, Beandrea. "The Elusive Concept of Blackness." Colorlines, November/December 2007. Accessed August 4, 2009.
  7. ^ Mahdawi, Arwa. "The truth about adverts: selling the White Woman™", The Guardian, April 29, 2015
  8. ^ http://www.causecollective.com/projects/httpwww-insearchofthetruth-net/
  9. ^ http://insearchofthetruth.net/
  10. ^ Randy Kennedy. Political Art in a Fractious Election Year "The New York Times", July 17, 2016

External links[edit]