A painting.

Artist Mark Thomas Gibson will join The Library Company of Philadelphia to participate in the Behind Glass Cases project where he will examine the until recently publicly displayed painting Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences (or The Genius of America Encouraging the Emancipation of the Blacks), 1792 by Samuel Jennings.

Gibson’s project plays on conventional approaches of representation in history painting while addressing the proposition proposed by Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences. As a painter he cannot manifest his work in a way that is not truthful to his practice as an artist, so he will reach out to the community to help brainstorm different ideas of what the future will look like.

Given what we now know about climate change, escalating conflicts in Europe and Asia, escalating proxy wars over resources, and a privatized space program it may be time to reconsider the future. It may be time to ask, where do you see humanity in the next ten years? Over the next few months Gibson will host four separate listening sessions with Philadelphians where he will record answers to the question, “where do you see humanity in the next ten years?” After these series of discussions he will create four large scale paintings that represent the envisioned futures of the four groups. The paintings will be composed as retellings of historical events and each one will depict a narrative in western narrative painting tradition.

In our 24 hour news cycles ninety percent of the news acts as divination. What we see reported day in and day out has little to do with recounting what has occurred. It’s about what will happen next. To fill the time they use pundits to act as psychic gurus offering their experience to divine possible outcomes to the news. Whether or not these outcomes come to fruition is not the point. Information offered in a format such as this makes everyone participating in the conversation a novice master of any given subject, local or global. It only blurs our political landscape and distorts social cohesion. Perhaps painting, which exists as a still object, can operate as a point of reflection. Painting has the potential to reorient us so that we can have a clear understanding of our fictional relationship with our perception of history and potential outcomes.

Project Partner

Mark Thomas Gibson’s personal lens on American culture stems from his multipartite viewpoint as an artist, a professor, and an American history buff. These myriad and often colliding perspectives fuel his exploration of contemporary culture through the language of painting and drawing, revealing a vision of America where every viewer is implicated as a potential character within the story.

In 2016, Gibson co-curated the traveling exhibition Black Pulp! with William Villalongo at 32 Edgewood Gallery, Yale School of Art. The show examined evolving perspectives of Black identity in American culture and history from 1912 to 2016 through printed media and artworks.

Gibson released his first book, Some Monsters Loom Large in 2016 with funding from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Gibson’s second book Early Retirement was released in 2017 with Edition Patrick Frey in Zurich and was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

In 2021, Gibson was awarded residencies at Yaddo and the Elizabeth Murray Artist Residency as well as a Fellowship from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, Philadelphia, PA and a Hodder Fellowship from the Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ.

In 2022, Gibson was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship from the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, New York, NY and was named a 2022 Grantee by The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation New York, NY.

In February 2023 he had a solo exhibition Whirlygig! At Sikkema & Jenkins Co. and in March 2023 he was included in the exhibition Rising Sun: Artists in an Uncertain America at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. His most recent solo exhibition, A Finite Retelling of Non-Disputable Facts, will be exhibited at MOCAD in October 2023.

Mark Thomas Gibson is represented by M+B, (Los Angeles, CA) and Loyal, (Stockholm, Sweden). He is currently an Assistant Professor of Painting at Tyler School of Art and Architecture, Temple University and lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.

LCP Liaisons

Ainsley Wynn Aekins

Wynn Eakins is the Reading Room Assistant at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Wynn joined the Library Company in June of 2020. They have a B.F.A. in African American Studies from Wesleyan University and they began the MLIS program at Drexel in 2021. Before joining LCP, they worked at Yale’s Program for Recovery and Community Health, the John J. Wilcox LGBT Archives, and the Free Library’s Children’s Literature Research Collection. Wynn’s interests include community-based librarianship, early modern Black history, Black Queer studies, and cross-cultural ethics in the digital age.

Linda August, Reference Librarian and Curator of Art & Artifacts

Linda Kimiko August is Curator of Art and Artifacts and Visual Materials Cataloger at the Library Company of Philadelphia. She joined the staff in 2004. She is a graduate of Widener University with a BA in History and an MA in Museum Communication from the University of the Arts. Ms. August is a Visual Materials Cataloger in the Graphic Arts Department and the Curator of the Art & Artifacts Collection, which contains over 300 cultural objects, including paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, and scientific instruments. She spearheaded a multi-year project to digitize and catalog the Art & Artifacts Collection and conserve a number of important pieces by successfully attaining grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). She co-curated the exhibition Together We Win: The Philadelphia Homefront During the First World War and curated Stylish Books: Designing Philadelphia Furniture. Her research interests include the history of the Library Company, the artifacts in the collection, and Asian American history.

ric Preservation) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (MSLS).

Erika Piola, Associate Curator of Print and Photographs and Co-Director of the Visual Culture Program

Erika Piola is the Curator of Graphic Arts and Director of the Visual Culture Program at the Library Company of Philadelphia. She has worked in the Graphic Arts Department at the Library Company since 1997. She received her B.A. from Haverford College and her M.A. in History from the University of Pennsylvania. She is Director of the Visual Culture Program and has served as a project director and curator for a number of Library Company initiatives, including Imperfect HistoryCommon TouchPhiladelphia on Stone, 18th-and 19th-Century Ephemera, and African Americana Graphics. She is editor and contributor to Philadelphia on Stone: Commercial Lithography in Philadelphia, 1828-1878 (Penn State University Press, 2012). Ms. Piola has also presented and published work on American visual culture, 19th-century ephemera, the antebellum Philadelphia print market, and the Library’s African American history and photography collections. Her research interests include Philadelphia lithography, the frame maker and print dealer James S. Earle, print seller Sarah Hart, and stereographs portraying the New Woman.