Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gordon Parks, Hank Willis Thomas to Show Alongside '30 Americans' this Fall at Corcoran

This fall, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design opens 30 Americans (October 1, 2011 – February 12, 2012), a groundbreaking exhibition of work by many of the most important African American contemporary artists of the last three decades, among them Glenn Ligon, Kehinde Wiley, Kalup Linzy, Nina Chanel Abney, Kara Walker, and Purvis Young. By bringing seminal artistic figures together with younger and emerging artists, the exhibition explores artistic influence across generations and sheds light on issues of racial, sexual and historical identity.

On view in conjunction with 30 Americans, the Corcoran will open Hank Willis Thomas: Strange Fruit, a body of new, never-before-shown work by the artist, and Gordon Parks: Photographs from the Collection.

In Strange Fruit, Thomas explores how the concepts of spectacle and display relate to notions of African American identity. Through photograph and video works, Thomas examines two forms of spectacle – the historic culture of lynchings and the commodification that surrounds professional sports – and analyzes their impact on the presentation of the black body. 

“Strange Fruit presents provocative new work by Hank Willis Thomas, a tough and thoughtful young artist working at the edge of contemporary practice,” said Chief Curator and Head of Research Philip Brookman, who organized the exhibition. “His images confront our sense of memory and history—both past and present—and they deal strongly with issues of racial identity and terror. One of the hallmarks of Hank's art is that he illuminates some of the things we do not want to see or remember and puts these in the context of what we already know, such as spectacle, sports, and corporate ideology. In this way he pushes us to confront our own preconceptions about the world and reconsider them in new and enlightening ways.”

Two works from Thomas’s series B®ANDED will be on view in 30 Americans. Basketball and Chain, 2003, and Branded Head, 2003 draw upon the language of advertising to compare commodification of the African American male body during slavery and the presentation of African American sports stars today.

Image: Hank Willis Thomas, From Cain’t See in the Mornin’ til Cain’t See at Night, 2011. Digital C-print, 30 x 96 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY. © Hank Willis Thomas.

Gordon Parks: Photographs from the Collection presents 25 works from many of the pioneering documentarian’s most important photographic essays, and includes American Gothic, Washington, D.C., 1942, Park’s iconic image of Washington, DC FSA maid Ella Watson. Parks (1912–2006) used photography, film, writing, and music to express an enduring message of hope in the face of adversity, but today he is best known for his work as a photojournalist and filmmaker. In 1969, Parks became the first African American to create a major motion picture for a Hollywood studio, directing The Learning Tree from a script based on his novel of the same name. He went on to make Shaft, Leadbelly, and other films that challenged presumptions about African American life.

Both Hank Willis Thomas: Strange Fruit and Gordon Parks: Photographs from the Collection open October 1 and remain on view through Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Monday January 16, when the Gallery will be FREE and open to the public. For more information on the 30 Americans exhibit and its related programs and events, visit

Top photo: Gordon Parks, American Gothic, Washington, D.C., 1942. Gelatin silver print, 43 9/16 x 31 7/8 inches. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., The Gordon Parks Collection, 1998.25.003. © The Gordon Parks Foundation.

Source: Press release/Corcoran

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