CLEVELAND (October 18, 2013) – The Cleveland Museum of Art presents Hank Willis Thomas, a two venue exhibition showcasing work by the young, provocative artist along with several collaborators. On view beginning Oct. 20 in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s photography gallery is Thomas’s entire early major series, the 82-part Unbranded: Reflections in Black Corporate America, 1968–2008. Beginning Dec. 14, Transformer Station, the new contemporary art venue owned by the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Foundation on Cleveland’s west side, will host the second part of the exhibition, which includes a five-screen video installation, Question Bridge: Black Males. The Cleveland Museum of Art exhibition closes March 8, 2013 and Transformer Station ends March 9, 2013. Both exhibitions are free.
“Thomas’s work leads us to question our generalizations and preconceptions about racial and other socially created divisions and categories,” said Dr. Barbara Tannenbaum, curator of photography. “Thus it seems entirely appropriate to have the show on view simultaneously on both the city’s east and west side. The exhibition spans his decade-long career. The work on view at the museum is one of the artist’s earliest series. Some of the art at Transformer Station is so new that it was produced just in time to be shown there. In addition to still photography and video, you will encounter works employing unusual art media such as retroreflective material and lenticular printing, and even a quilt.”
Hank Willis Thomas is the artist’s largest museum show to date as well as his first in Ohio. In the portion of the exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Unbranded: Reflections in Black Corporate America, 1968–2008, Thomas sought advertisements targeting African American consumers in popular magazines including Time, Sports Illustrated, Ebony and Playboy. Choosing two ads per year between 1968 and 2008, he digitally removed all text and branding information from them, propelling viewers to think how advertising reinforces generalizations surrounding race, gender and cultural identity.
The exhibition was inspired by the museum’s acquisition of several of the artist’s works (five photographs and a video) in 2012, and these objects will be on view at Transformer Station, starting Dec. 14, along with several loans and new works that have never before been on view, like And I Can’t Run, the lenticular Monochrome Diptych and pieces from Thomas’s Framework series. A focus at Transformer Station is a five-screen video installation, Question Bridge: Black Males. In this collaborative project, Chris Johnson, Thomas, Bayeté Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair invite viewers to witness a dialogue between black men of various ages from a wide range of backgrounds. Through questions and answers that are pointed, poignant, humorous, painful and revealing, these men begin to redefine black male identity in America.
On view in an adjoining gallery will be selections from several of Thomas’s past series, including Branded and Strange Fruit, plus a selection of new works, and an emotionally powerful video by Thomas and Kambui Olujimi, Winter in America. The latter work employs stop-action animation and G.I. Joe figures to act out the shooting death of Thomas’s cousin during a robbery. The artists, who played with similar toys themselves, have come to believe that they breed “a culture of violent thoughts for young boys who are invited to author violent scenarios before they can even read.”
“Sometimes humorous, always visually striking and thought-provoking, Thomas creates accessible art that tackles serious, real-life issues,” said Dr. Barbara Tannenbaum, curator of photography.
This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of PNC Bank. The contributing sponsor is Nesnadny + Schwartz. Additional support provided by the Friends of Photography and the Friends of African and African-American Art. The Cleveland Museum of Art is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. The Ohio Arts Council helped fund this exhibition with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence, and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans.
How Advertising Sold Race
Wednesday, October 30, 7:00 p.m. Photography Galleries, CMA.
Barbara Tannenbaum discusses Thomas’ altered advertisements with former advertising executive Fred Bidwell.
Flash Perspectives: Hank Willis Thomas
Thursday, February 6, 7:00 p.m. Transformer Station.
Three different perspectives, ten minutes each, on the work of Hank Willis Thomas.
Black male leaders representing several generations in the Cleveland community discuss what it means to be a black male in an attempt to dismantle communication boundaries. These discussions are staged in connection with the video installation Question Bridge: Black Males, on view at the Transformer Station. Visit www.clevelandart.org  for roundtable dates and locations.
Artist in Person:
Hank Willis Thomas
Saturday, February 1, 2:00 p.m. Recital Hall, CMA.
The artist discusses his latest work and collaborative projects. $15 non-members. Thanks in part to support from Nesnadny + Schwartz, admission is free for CMA members and students (with ID at ticket center).
In Search of the Truth (The Truth Booth) created by Ryan Alexiev, Jim Ricks and Hank Willis Thomas, is a portable, inflatable cartoon speech bubble with the word ‘TRUTH’ on the side that records responses to the statement, “The truth is…” The Truth Booth travels around Cleveland during the Hank Willis Thomas exhibition. Visit www.clevelandart.org/CMAtruthbooth  or follow #CMAtruthbooth for locations.
About Transformer Station
Transformer Station is a project of Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Foundation that is designed to bring original contemporary arts exhibitions, events and programming from around the world to the west side of Cleveland. Bidwell Projects collection, which focuses on contemporary photography and photo-based art, and the Cleveland Museum of Art share the space and the calendar of events and exhibitions on an annual basis for six months each.
Transformer Station, 1460 West 29 Street, Cleveland, OH 44113. 216-938-5429. Open: Wednesdays: 12-5:00 p.m.; Thursdays: 12- 8:00 p.m.; Fridays: 12- 5:00 p.m.; and Saturdays: 12-5:00 p.m. Free admission.