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Hank Willis Thomas “Unbrands” Advertising Culture at the Block Museum of Art

Thomas appropriates images drawn from advertising campaigns to investigate the subtle and not so subtle ways in which ads reinforce ideas about race and race relations.

Left: Hank Willis Thomas, “The natives will get restless, 1976/2015” [detail] (2015), digital chromogenic print, 40 x 40 3/9 inches. Right: Hank Willis Thomas, “Bleach and Glow, 1975/2008” [detail] (2008), LightJet print, 36 x 27 inches (courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York)

Renowned conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976) has built his career investigating issues of American consumer culture, particularly as it relates to African-American subjects. His projects often appropriate images drawn from advertising campaigns to investigate the subtle and not so subtle ways in which ads reinforce ideas about race and race relations. The Block Museum of Art at Northwestern is proud to present Hank Willis Thomas: Unbranded, (April 14–August 5, 2018),  showcasing some of Thomas’s most well-known works interrogating how advertising images reproduce and reinforce the changing American ideals of race and femininity.

The exhibition includes selections from two related bodies of Thomas’ work, the 2005–08 series Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008 and the 2015 series Unbranded: A Century of White Women 1915-2015, both drawing directly from the visual repertoire of American print advertising from the past century. Within the images, Thomas digitally removes slogans and product names from historical and contemporary advertisements, “un-branding” them and asking us to confront the impact of images on the popular imagination.

“Hank Willis Thomas uses appropriation as a strategy to catalyze thinking about the value system operating within images that circulate in consumer culture,” said Lisa Corrin, the Block Museum’s Ellen Philips Katz Director. “How does advertising shape our collective sense of self and individual sense of self-worth? How does it commodify race and gender? We hope this presentation of Hank’s work will be a springboard for lively discussion of these questions.”

The Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University is free and open to all.

Hank Willis Thomas: Unbranded continues at the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University (40 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston, Illinois) through August 5, 2018.