Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- These interactive speech bubble benches frame the natural environment (literally). They offer visitors a place to sit and interact with the works of art and with each other. The black outline of the speech bubbles references the pop art style of classic comic books.
- This painted steel sculpture is an example of conceptual art. In conceptual art, the idea presented by the artist is considered more important than how the work looks.
- Conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas explores themes of identity, race, history, and pop culture in his work. Much of his artwork is inspired by events from the Civil Rights Movement and his experience as a Black American.
- The sculpture is named after the artist’s grandparents.
Ernest and Ruth, by New York contemporary artist Hank Willis Thomas, was commissioned in 2015. Thomas created these speech bubbles — made from steel plate and pipe — in hopes that Park-goers would sit and contemplate what it means to, quote, “inhabit their own speech and beliefs.”
The sculptures serve as benches that invite you to sit and reflect on how you communicate with others. They are a fantastic play gym for younger Park-goers, as well as an equally great spot to recharge and find a little shade after running in the surrounding fields, taking in the sight of the Park’s sunflowers, or trekking over from the pond.
Thomas named the sculptures after his grandparents. And it’s not hard to imagine an older married couple sitting on opposite sides of these speech bubbles, talking with one another through the years. When reflecting on his work, Thomas had this to say:
“I’m very much into interactivity in work and work that inspires viewers to become participants.”
“All of my work is about framing and context and how, depending on where you stand, it affects what you see. And as a photographer, these works are frames. The idea of not only making images but making work that encourages other people to make images is really exciting.”
“I hope we’re creating a space for framing our lives and our stories in new ways.”
True to Thomas’s intent, Ernest and Ruth is a popular mainstay on social media — with visitors posting pictures of themselves with friends and family at the sculpture while stopping for some rest and reflection.
Resources for Teachers
- Read an article about how the artist deals with the criticism that comes with public art.
- Read an article about accusations of theft that the artist is facing.
- Read an article that includes an interview with the artist.
Resources for Students