Hank Willis Thomas - New Now New York Wednesday, March 8, 2023 | Phillips
  • “I like the idea of referring to what has been left out of any photograph, or any historical document. It is not the whole. It’s what has been prepared and presented, or what has been deemed worth saving, or exhibiting. So I try to point that out in my work, even when I talk about historical things.”
    —Hank Willis Thomas
    Hank Willis Thomas’ Society of the Spectacle (Spectrum IV), 2019 depicts the sensational and paradoxical consequences of capitalism via the technicolor lens. Influenced by the power of photography, film and the image of the consumer, Thomas consistently recontextualizes popular imagery with social implications in his oeuvre. The power of manipulation, according to Thomas “encourages inquisitiveness. It encourages us to really question and evaluate values. What are the things we care about? What are the messages we are trying to articulate?”i Thomas uses the repurposed image of these marveling movie-goers to breathe life into a continuously relevant text and consistently relevant societal flaw.


    Detail of the present work.

     Displeased with an increasingly consumerist France, French philosopher and theorist Guy-Ernest Debord wrote his manifesto, La Société du spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle), critiquing a post-war capitalism. While Thomas references the title of the book in the title of his work, he also features the 1983 publication for the English edition of its cover as a main visual component for his work.

    Inspired by the 1967 text, The Society of the Spectacle, Thomas turns the “spectacle” on its head. The retroreflective vinyl material shines back at the viewer, confronting them with this image of society. The thick vertical stripes and rainbow vinyl work to highlight the intensity and urgency of this societal impropriety, as well as beautify a rather monotonous and monochromatic visual. The textures and colors also reference the influence of the moving image, specifically color film and the origins of the original repurposed photograph.


    Jeff Chandler and his wife, Marjorie Hoshelle, at the premiere of Bwana Devil, 1952. Image: M. Garrett/Murray Garrett/Getty Images.

    The image of the figures donned with evening wear and polaroid spectacles was initially taken by LIFE Magazine photographer J.R. Eyerman in 1952 on the opening night of Bwana Devil, the first feature-length color film to utilize 3-D technology, hence the marveling audience members.ii Movie-goers looked on with wonder as they experienced this cinematic spectacle for the first time. Thomas’ Society of the Spectacle (Spectrum IV) can be perceived as an homage to Debord and a call to action. His evaluation of society’s relationship to the “spectacle "is disapproving, but also reflective, as he strives to understand the confines of this modern capitalism, through photography as well as film and literature.
    “For me, change is necessary for growth, and as the times are rapidly evolving, I also need to do that. The core of my work is still there, but the methods and mediums that I use to express the import—and things have had to evolve.”
    —Hank Willis Thomas

    i Hank Willis Thomas, quoted in “HANK WILLIS THOMAS with Allie Biswas,” The Brooklyn Rail, May 2015, online.
    ii Ben Cosgrove, “LIFE at the Movies: When 3-D Was New,” LIFE, online.

    • Provenance

      Kayne Griffin, Los Angeles
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


Society of the Spectacle (Spectrum IV)

UV print on retroreflective vinyl mounted to Dibond
97 x 128 1/2 x 2 in. (246.4 x 326.4 x 5.1 cm)
Executed in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

$100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for $127,000

Contact Specialist

Avery Semjen
Head of Sale, New Now
212 940 1207

New Now

New York Auction 8 March 2023