Hank Willis Thomas, "The Truth Is I Love You" at the Austin Central Library
The 15-foot sculpture encourages awareness of diversity
Hank Willis Thomas, "The Truth Is I Love You," (2015). Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery and Pace Gallery. © Hank Willis Thomas. Photo by James Ewing, courtesy Public Art Fund, New York.
7 p.m. Sculpture unveiling
7:30 p.m. Hank Willis Thomas in conversation with Cherise Smith, executive director of the Art Galleries at Black Studies and chair of the UT African & African Diaspora Studies Department.
Both events are free and open to the public.
Artist Hank Willis Thomas will unveil The Truth Is I Love You, a 15-foot sculpture outside the Austin Central Library on Nov. 15.
Known for his thought-provoking art that addresses race, representation, consumer culture, and more, Thomas’ sculpture features branches sprouting speech bubbles that spell out the words of its title. The sculpture will occupy a prominent space outside the downtown library’s east entrance overlooking Shoal Creek. The site, designed to feature a large-scale public art piece, has remained unoccupied since the building opened in 2017.
The public artwork sculpture will be unveiled at 7 p.m. on November 15. At 7:30 p.m., Thomas and University of Texas art historian Cherise Smith will give a public talk in the Austin Central Library Gallery. Both events are free and open to the public.
"The Library Foundation is thrilled to bring The Truth Is I Love You by Hank Willis Thomas to Austin,” said Tim Staley, Executive Director of the Library Foundation. “Its message of inclusiveness will appropriately stand as a beacon to the Austin Central Library, welcoming all Austinites to discover, learn, and create."
Standing at 15-feet tall, The Truth Is I Love You has cartoon-like speech bubbles that, like leaves, adorn six jagged branches. Each speech bubble protruding from the steel structure features a single word or punctuation mark to complete a phrase in Spanish and English: truth, !, you, I, is, love, ?, the. Depending on the viewer’s standpoint, the bubbles group together to create various phrases and inquiries. People may see the exclamatory “the truth is I love you!?” or questions such as “the truth is?” or “is love the truth?”
A common theme within Thomas’ creative practice, the meaning of the artwork ultimately resides with the viewer, giving the sculpture a strong sense of inclusivity and accessibility that encourages and promotes tolerance and respect for a diversity of viewpoints. The Truth Is I Love You derives its name from a collaborative artwork and poem written by Thomas with artist Ryan Alexiev.
According to Thomas, the sculpture is a symbol of our ability to accept that even when people’s truths are different from ours, they are still inherently valuable. “All of my work is about framing and contexts,” 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.”
Hank Willis Thomas, The Truth Is I Love You, 2015 is courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery and Pace Gallery.
Hank Willis Thomas
(b. 1976, Plainfield, New Jersey; lives and works in Brooklyn, NY) hankwillisthomas.com
Hank Willis Thomas is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture.
Thomas often uses recognizable icons from popular branding and marketing campaigns, encouraging the viewer to question commercial consumer representation and the racial stereotypes they perpetuate. Characteristic of his artistic process, Thomas looks to the ways popular imagery informs how people perceive themselves and others, comparing this practice to one of a “visual cultural archaeologist.”
Thomas’ most recent project, “The Embrace” (2022), is a memorial inspired by an archival photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, embracing after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The 20-foot tall, 32-foot-wide bronze sculpture was unveiled in January 2023 at its permanent home in Boston Commons where, in 1965, Dr. King led a march from the Roxbury neighborhood to the downtown public park.
His collaborative projects include Question Bridge: Black Males; In Search Of The Truth (The Truth Booth); The Writing on the Wall; The Gun Violence Memorial Project; and For Freedoms, an artist-led organization that models and increases creative civic engagement, discourse & direct action.
Thomas is a recipient of the Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship (2019), The Guggenheim Fellowship (2018), AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize (2017), Soros Equality Fellowship (2017), Aperture West Book Prize (2008), Renew Media Arts Fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation (2007), and the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship Award (2006). He is a former member of the Public Design Commission for the City of New York.
Thomas is a recipient of the U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts (2023) the Guggenheim Fellowship (2018), AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize (2017), Soros Equality Fellowship (2017) and is a former member of the New York City Public Design Commission.
Thomas’ work has been exhibited throughout the United States and abroad including at the International Center of Photography, New York (2013); Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain (2015); Brooklyn Museum, New York (2016); and the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town (2016). His work is held in numerous public collections worldwide, including the Kadist Art Foundation, Paris; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Smart Museum of Art, Chicago, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Thomas earned a BFA from New York University, New York in 1998 and an MA/MFA from the California College of the Arts, San Francisco in 2004.
He received honorary doctorates from the Maryland Institute of Art, Baltimore, and the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, Portland, Maine, in 2017. The artist lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. hankwillisthomas.com