Hank Willis Thomas Sculpture to be Unveiled at Austin Central Library

by Glasstire October 7, 2023

The Austin Central Library, the large downtown branch of the Austin Public Library which opened in 2017 and was the recipient of a 2018 AIA/ALA Library Building Award, has announced that a new public artwork by renowned Brooklyn-based artist Hank Willis Thomas will soon be unveiled on its grounds.

A photograph of a public art work by Hank Willis Thomas of a black tree-like object with white speech bubbles coming off of the branches.

Hank Willis Thomas, “The Truth is I Love You,” 2015. © Hank Willis Thomas. Photo: James Ewing, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

The fifteen-foot sculpture, titled The Truth Is I Love You (2015), will be unveiled at 7 p.m. on November 15. Then at 7:30 p.m., in the Austin Central Library Gallery, Mr. Thomas will participate in a free, open to the public conversation with University of Texas art history professor and Chair in African American Studies in the Department of African & African Diaspora Studies Dr. Cherise Smith. 

Mr. Thomas’ public sculptures already have a presence in Texas. Last year, the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio acquired his large bronze History of the Conquest (2017). Also, in 2018, Mr. Thomas’ artist-run initiative, For Freedoms, brought the project The 50 State Initiative to Texas. Other collections that hold his work include the Kadist Art Foundation, Paris; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Smart Museum of Art, Chicago; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the Whitney Museum of American Art. His many awards include the Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship (2019), The Guggenheim Fellowship (2018), AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize (2017), the Soros Equality Fellowship (2017), the Aperture West Book Prize (2008), the Renew Media Arts Fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation (2007), and the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship Award (2006).

A portrait of the artist Hank Willis Thomas.

Hank Willis Thomas. Photo: Jeff Vespa.

According to his biography, shared in a press release by the Austin Public Library, Mr. Thomas’ work “often uses recognizable icons from popular branding and marketing campaigns, encouraging the viewer to question commercial consumer representation and the racial stereotypes they perpetuate.” The Truth Is I Love You is a large, metal, tree-like structure with a cartoon word bubble at the end of each of its limbs. According to the press release, “each speech bubble… features a single word or punctuation mark to complete a phrase in Spanish and English: truth, !, you, I, is, love, ?, the.” The message changes depending on the vantage point of the viewer. Says the artist, “depending on where you’re standing, it really shapes your perspective of the truth, of reality, and of what’s important. I’m honored to see this work grow in a place like Austin.”

The piece will be situated outside the library’s east entrance, overlooking Shoal Creek. The site on which it will stand was designed to hold a monumental artwork, but has remained empty since the building was completed in 2017. Tim Staley, Executive Director of the Library Foundation, noted that the piece transmitted a “message of inclusiveness [that] will appropriately stand as a beacon to the Austin Central Library, welcoming all Austinites to discover, learn, and create.”

For more information on the library, visit austinlibrary.org. And to learn more about Mr. Thomas’ wide-ranging practice, check his website: hankwillisthomas.com

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