Jury Spotlight: Hank Willis Thomas

Each fair stARTup gathers six of the art world’s industry leaders to ensure that each fair is fresh and unique, with the highest level of exhibitors from the contemporary art scene.

In preparation for our inaugural San Francisco fair in 2015, we called upon the talent of Hank Willis Thomas, a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective identity, commodity, media, and popular culture.

Hank Willis Thomas for    Surface Magazine

Hank Willis Thomas for Surface Magazine

Hank has had major exhibitions on the West Coast at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Orange County Museum of Art, as well as The Studio Museum in Harlem, the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, and as part of the 2017 inaugural show at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, South Africa. His work is included in numerous public collections, including the MOMA, Guggenheim, Whitney Museum, Brooklyn Museum, and the National Gallery of Art at Washington, D.C. Safe to say, he was a well qualified juror.

Since 2015, Hank has enjoyed a number of incredible successes (in addition to co-founding For Freedoms, the first-ever artist-run super PAC with Eric Gottesman), but the past few months have been monumental for his career.

Guggenheim    Studio visit with Hank Willis Thomas

Guggenheim Studio visit with Hank Willis Thomas

In February, Hank was named one of the two Gordon Parks Foundation fellowships. The title includes a $20,000 award to support new or ongoing projects that “reflect and draw inspiration from the themes of representation and social justice in Park’s creative work,” in addition to a future exhibition held at the foundation’s exhibition space in New York.

To start the month of March, Hank beat out five other finalists with his winning design for the Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King Memorial on Boston Common — a 22-foot-high proposed sculpture named “The Embrace.”

In a phone interview with WBUR, Hank said of the bronze-finish sculpture, “We often look at the heroes without seeing who is holding them up and where their courage or strength comes from.” He then shared how his design was inspired by an iconic photo of the Kings embracing after he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group's proposed memorial

Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group's proposed memorial

A week after, Hank was featured in The New York Times Lens blog “Updating Norman Rockwell’s ‘Four Freedoms’ for a Modern, Diverse America.”

Freedom of Worship on TIME Magazine

Freedom of Worship on TIME Magazine

In it detailed Hank’s recent project with photographers Emily Shur and Wyatt Gallery, along with video artist Eric Gottesman. No stranger to using advertising to convey social commentary, Hank set out with his team to recreate Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series to reflect on the country’s current state of affairs.

Hank said with The New York Times, “The response to the images were so overwhelming. We’re doing town halls to turn critical dialogue into political discourse about fine art practices. But, we also think it’s important to be visionary not reactionary. When thinking about long-term impact, we want to aim to make statements that will last beyond the current moment.”


In April, Hank will be honored along with his Super PAC co-founder Eric Gottesman with a Social Justice award at the Bronx Museum gala. Of this new award, Bronx Museum Executive Director Deborah Cullen said, “For the first time, this year’s gala will recognize visionary leaders dedicated to social justice, and we are thrilled to present three new awards that work toward a more equitable and civil society.”



There’s even more for Hank on the horizon. Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal will open at the Portland Art Museum on October 12th and running through January 2020. This will be Hank’s first major survey and it will feature an extensive selection of photographs, sculpture, video, audience-activated digital animation, and collaborative public works.

The exhibition will largely center on “the black body in American popular culture, both past and present, [inviting] us to consider the role of popular visual culture in perpetuating discrimination and how art can raise critical awareness in the ongoing struggle for social justice and civil rights.”

We’re honored to have Hank in our Selection Committee family. You can browse our current SF 2019 Selection Committee, as well as a complete listing of all past jurors, on our Jury page.


 Artists: applications are open for stARTup Small Works 2019. Artists selected by the jury will get a table to display their small-scale art.

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ArticleMica England