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Posted on: August 2, 2023

Springfield Art Museum Acquires Interactive Sculpture By Hank Willis Thomas

The artist reclines inside a large black sculpture shaped like a cartoon speech bubble.


Springfield, MO. (August 2, 2023) – The Springfield Art Museum is pleased to announce the acquisition and installation of the interactive sculpture Ernest and Ruth by Hank Willis Thomas. Thomas is a prominent contemporary Black artist who uses photography, sculpture, and installation work to explore issues of identity, history, race, class, and popular culture.

Thomas was born in New Jersey and is currently based in New York City, where he is represented by the Jack Shainman Gallery. He received a BFA in Photography and Africana Studies from New York University and an MA in Visual Criticism and an MFA in Photography from California College of the Arts. His work has been exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally. His work is also in numerous public collections including The Brooklyn Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Ernest and Ruth – named after Thomas’ grandparents - is both a sculpture and a bench shaped like a cartoon speech bubble. It offers visitors a place to sit, to rest, and to interact with the work and with each other. It literally puts the public in public art. While seated on the bench, the viewer becomes “enclosed” in the speech bubble. The work invites dialogue about art and promotes discourse and listening. Thomas says, “When viewers occupy the piece, they are encouraged to contemplate what it means to inhabit their own speech and beliefs.”

The installation of this work on the Museum’s grounds – on the Hatch Foundation Lawn - creates an intentionally interactive experience that contrasts with the Museum’s other current outdoor sculpture offerings. Other intentionally interactive sculptures like Rebecca Hackemann’s Visionary Sightseeing Binocular and Shawn Bitters’ Burn Out are currently uninstalled but will return to the Museum’s grounds in the future. The curves and rounded form of Ernest and Ruth provide a counter-experience to the hard edges and lines of other monumental sculptures or smaller contemplative figurative or abstract works currently sited on the Museum’s grounds.

This work was purchased, by exchange, through gifts of Ronald K., Robert C., and Larry H. Greenburg. Prior to this acquisition, the Museum had no work by Hank Willis Thomas in the collection. The Springfield Art Museum is located at 1111 East Brookside Drive. Admission is always free. Donations are gratefully accepted.


Image credit: Hank Willis Thomas reclines in Ernest and Ruth, via the artist’s Instagram. Image Source: Artnet.

The Springfield Art Museum is Springfield, Missouri’s oldest cultural institution, founded in 1928. A department of the City of Springfield, the Museum invites you to connect with the world, your community, and yourself through active engagement with art objects. For more information, please visit or contact Joshua Best, Museum Affairs Officer at (417) 874-2859 or

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