Hank Willis Thomas, Time Can Be a Villain or a Friend, Light-jet print
My latest review now online at The L Magazine. The teaser below:
Art using the language of media to tease out social mores is as old as Marshal McCluhan, but seldom as interesting. Enter Hank Willis Thomas' exhibition at Jack Shainman, for example, and the first work you'll see– a framed picture of a young Michael Jackson inscribed with the redundant Time Can Be A Villain or a Friend — makes a small splash in a weak show of like-minded work. After all, anyone who hasn't been living in a hermetically sealed jar of mayonnaise for the last thirty years will read a more succinct message from the portrait alone. That the latest chapter in the ongoing coverage of Jackson's breakdown will complete itself just two months after the exhibition closes when his personal effects are sold as a result of foreclosure seems almost irrelevant.
Willis Thomas, however, appears not overly interested in current events, unless they reveal racially charged messages within mass media packaging and the commodification of black identity. A large number of works in the exhibition deal specifically with the visual and textual languages of advertising, but most lack ingenuity. Among the least successful of these pieces is a mirrored corporate tree logo from which a lynched basketball player hangs while a small colonial figure walks away. It provides little ambiguity. I suppose that's fine — effective advertising hardly offers subtle messages either, but at least it captures audiences' attention. In contrast, Willis Thomas offers a powerful story told badly.
Read the full review here.