Art Imitates Life – The Best of Hank Willis Thomas’s #ArtsyTakeover at The Armory Show

Elena Soboleva
Mar 11, 2015 10:53PM



Fashionistas and art aficionados, lovers and critics, kids and dogs—all were among the crowds at the 4th Edition of the #ArtsyTakeover that just wrapped up at Pier 94 of the Armory Show. Amongst hundreds of social media posts, Craigslist missed connections, and even a rumored secondary market for the tote bags, here are a few of the most memorable highlights from the project.

Given the opportunity to curate the #ArtsyTakeover, I invited a photo-conceptual artist and longtime friend Hank Willis Thomas to collaborate on the project. Together with his studio, Jack Shainman Gallery, and the LES Printshop, we worked to create an interactive, text-based installation that commented on contemporary art as it relates to media and consumption—all using retro-reflective text. 

A column, covered in text, lured visitors to snap the ultimate art selfies while standing in front of the perfect photo backdrop. Picture this: When struck by a cell-phone flash, the text-covered material (most commonly used for road signs and hazard warnings), would light up and silhouette anyone that stood before it.

As Hank explains, “Within a few moments of the project’s debut, we realized that we managed to create a pervasive and at times subversive illustration of the mantra ‘Life imitates art imitates ads imitate life.’ The best part for me was seeing people delve into making the art since collaboration is central to my practice. The resulting mosaic of silhouettes was poetic and beautiful!”

The outpour of creativity was astounding.

It brought out the fashionistas—see the hairflips, the peace signs, the handstands in stilletos.

It made people come together in unpredicatable ways.

It revealed the kid, the yogi, and the Ninja in all of us.

@mediumgreen | @suewilliamson | @kidsandsharks

 At times, the #ArtsyTakeover made us blush, but kept it PG.

@sfriedz | @zlotowitz | @carterac

There were the Dreamgirls and the divas!

@charmigly_uncommon | @laurenchisholm_ | @celestekuwik

And New Yorkers, well, being New Yorkers, and just doin’ their weekend thing.

@michelepred | @marinempc | @stas_chyzhykova

The silhouetted #artselfies brought out everyone’s best.

@markatthemuseum | @mrittera | @kuannyc

As a visible extension of the installation throughout the fair, Thomas also designed tote bags emblazoned with text, “Art imitates life. Life imitates ads. Ads imitate art,” which were given out at the Artsy booth. The mode of circular thinking was meant as a starting point for audiences to question the construct of marketing, which the fair, and the art world at large, employs.

@elenasoboleva | @artsy | @picklebeholding

The bags were a hit and ended up in an assortment of places, including the cartoons of Vanity Fair.

Image courtesy of Vanity Fair

Photo by Christophe Tedjasukmana for Artsy.

Look for the next #ArtsyTakeovers at SP-Arte, Art Cologne, and Art Brussels in April.

For more Armory Show coverage see the Fair Preview.

Elena Soboleva
Get the Artsy app
Download on the App StoreGet it on Google Play
Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019