San Antonio's McNay Art Museum adds 7-foot bronze snail sculpture to its outdoor collection

Hank Willis Thomas' History of the Conquest features a young girl perched atop an ornately decorated snail.

click to enlarge Hank Willis Thomas, History of the Conquest, 2017. Bronze. Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Museum purchase with funds from Ben Foster in memory of Raye B. Foster, 2021.42. - Courtesy of McNay Art Museum
Courtesy of McNay Art Museum
Hank Willis Thomas, History of the Conquest, 2017. Bronze. Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Museum purchase with funds from Ben Foster in memory of Raye B. Foster, 2021.42.
San Antonio's McNay Art Museum recently unveiled the newest addition to its outdoor sculpture collection, which — despite possessing the likeness of a giant snail — has proven to be quite the opposite of sluggish and mundane, drawing hoards of visitors with its monumental scale and eye-catching decorative shell.

Located in the museum's Mays Family Park, History of the Conquest by Hank Willis Thomas stands over 7 feet tall and features a young girl perched atop an ornately decorated snail, holding a bow in one hand and a pair of reins in the other. The snail's shell shines with a bronze finish and includes detailed engravings.

History of the Conquest is a reimagining of a 17th-century German sculpture — currently on display in the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut — and references Europe's profuse harvesting of the nautilus shell off the eastern coast of Africa.

"Thomas' sculpture is a captivating critique of the prejudiced, historical depictions of people of African descent," the McNay said in a press statement. "By enlarging the Wadsworth Atheneum’s 17th-century sculpture to a grand scale and interpreting it in bronze, the artist simultaneously draws attention to past representations and reclaims them."

The sculpture's acquisition was made possible by a generous donation in memory of Raye B. Foster, a former McNay docent and member of the McNay Board of Trustees from 1998-2009.

The McNay's Head of Curatorial Affairs René Paul Barilleaux describes the acquisition of History of the Conquest as an important contribution to the museum's goal of "expanding its collection of artworks by contemporary artists of color — both indoors and outdoors."

It is the museum's first work in any medium by Hank Willis Thomas.

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