Hank Willis Thomas - Photographs New York Wednesday, October 11, 2023 | Phillips

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  • The present image is from Hank Willis Thomas’s signature Crossroads series. Working with fellow artist Sanford Biggers as a model, Thomas explores the complexities and ambiguities of race. Baron of the Crossroads features Biggers as a character modeled on Elegba, the Yoruba deity, trickster, and protector of travels and crossroads. In Thomas’s rendering, the Baron is both black and white simultaneously—neither wholly one or the other, and seemingly possessing the attributes of darkness and light. In his characteristic fashion, Thomas employs a non-photographic material to accentuate the experience of looking at the work, in this case a selectively-filtering film laminate called Lumisty. When the photograph is looked at straight-on it can be seen in sharp detail. When viewed from one side or the other, the image shifts and blurs, with black and white tonal values mingling, merging, and then separating as one’s viewpoint shifts. The material creates an engagingly kinetic visual experience and manifests Thomas’s assertion that ‘where you’re standing affects what you interpret and your position on what you see.’


    Thomas was recently awarded the 2023 U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts. Created by the Art in Embassies program in 2012, the Medal of Arts award formally acknowledges artists who have played an exemplary role in advancing the U.S. Department of State’s mission to promote cultural diplomacy.


    The remarkable group of photographs comprising Lots 161 through 200 in this auction come from the collection of Fred and Laura Bidwell, collectors, philanthropists, and founders of the Transformer Station, the renowned exhibition space for contemporary photography and art in the Hingetown neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. The Bidwells’ collection presents a truly enlightened selection of work, ranging from classic practitioners such as Lee Friedlander and Stephen Shore to photographers working at the very cutting edge of today’s artistic practice, such as Kehinde Wiley, Zanele Muholi, and Hank Willis Thomas, among many others. Themes of identity and self-representation course through these works. An inquiry into the intrinsic nature of photography is another through-line, with artists as conceptually diverse as Alison Rossiter, Matthew Brandt, and Christopher Williams pushing the boundaries of the medium to deepen our understanding of it. Central to the collection is Hiroshi Sugimoto’s masterful Lightning Fields 128 (lot 169), which is emblematic of the creative spark underlying Bidwells’ progressive conception of photography.


    Driven by a passion for photography and a desire to make their collection accessible to the public, the Bidwells renovated a former Cleveland Railway Company transformer substation into a state-of-the-art exhibition venue. Boasting 3,500 square feet of exhibition space, the Transformer Station became a vital part of the city’s artistic community, hosting exhibitions drawn from the Bidwells’ collection, exhibitions curated by the Cleveland Museum of Art, as well as performances and talks. Earlier this year, the Bidwells gifted Transformer Station to the Cleveland Museum of Art which will continue to use this unique space. 


    Proceeds from the sale of these works will support the Bidwells’ active philanthropic endeavors. 



    Read More about High Voltage →

    • Provenance

      Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, 2012

    • Exhibited

      Light of Day, Transformer Station, Cleveland, 3 February - 4 May 2013

High Voltage: Contemporary Photographs from the Collection of Fred and Laura Bidwell


Baron of the Crossroads

Chromogenic print and Plexiglas with Lumisty film.
48 x 35 3/8 in. (121.9 x 89.9 cm)
Overall 49 1/2 x 37 in. (125.7 x 94 cm)

Number 1 from an edition of 3 plus 1 artist's proof.

Full Cataloguing

$25,000 - 35,000 

Sold for $30,480

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs


Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 11 October 2023