In 2016 The Ringling purchased eleven photographs from Hank Willis Thomas’s provocative series Unbranded: A Century of White Women, 1915–2015. The entire set of 100 digital chromogenic prints by Thomas, the internationally celebrated conceptual artist, reconsiders classic advertisements over the last 100 years - minus their original text. Released from any context, brand, product or messaging, the previously subliminal images are free to speak more directly to what is being sold: the constructed identity and reinforced stereotypes of white women in the U.S. over time.
To make the archival ads he has photographed even more accessible, Thomas has added new captions—some funny and irreverent, some ironic and pointed. By mining the past to create regrettably timeless representations of disempowered white women, Thomas confronts issues that continue to inform and circulate throughout our culture today.
As Thomas commented in an interview with Time in 2011, “Part of advertising’s success is based on its ability to reinforce generalizations developed around race, gender and ethnicity which are generally false, but [these generalizations] can sometimes be entertaining, sometimes true, and sometimes horrifying.”
Support for this exhibition was funded in part by the Florida State University Foundation Ringling Museum General Endowment.
Art of Our Time is sponsored by Gulf Coast Community Foundation.