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Museum Exhibition

L'Ecole des Beaux Art...
Mickalene Thomas: Femme au divan II

July 5 – August 31, 2014

museum exhibition

George Eastman House
Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman

June 20 – October 19, 2014

Artist Project

Mickalene Thomas
Decópolis: The Talent of Others

February 6 - 24, 2013
The Proposition, New York

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Artist Bio

Mickalene Thomas

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Ocula

December 20, 2016

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Artomity

December 15, 2016

News

What Happens When Artists Take Over an Upper East Side Mansion W Magazine

April 5 2016

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Mickalene Thomas on Muses, Models, and Mentors Interview Magazine

March 10 2016

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‘Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs’ and ‘Tête-à-Tête’What to See in New York Art Galleries This Week New York Times

February 11 2016

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Mickalene Thomas on Her Photographic Muses Vogue

February 6 2016

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Kindred spirits: Mickalene Thomas' collaborative photography at Aperture Wallpaper* Magazine

February 2 2016

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In Mickalene Thomas’s awe-inspiring portraits, a meaningful reflection of black women in art New York Times

January 29 2016

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Tour Mickalene Thomas's Brooklyn Townhouse Vogue

January 6 2016

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Panel Discussion including Mickalene Thomas Art Basel Miami Beach 2015

December 3 2015

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Mickalene Thomas Receives 2015 United States Artist Fellowship Award

November 10 2015

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Beautiful Photos Of Women Take On Stereotypes Through High Art Refinery29

November 4 2015

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The New York Times

July 18, 2014

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Time Out New York

July 7, 2014

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Interview Magazine

June 26, 2014

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Huffington Post

June 26, 2014

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New York Observer / Gallerist NY

June 20, 2014

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American Art

Spring 2014

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Vogue

February 17, 2014

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The New York Times

June 14, 2013

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Phaidon

June 13, 2013

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Whitewall

June 12, 2013

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Artspace

June 7, 2013

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Wallpaper* Brooklyn queen of bling Mickalene Thomas bedazzles with her rhinestone-studded canvases

June 2013

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ARTnews

April 2013

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Opening Ceremony

March 20, 2013

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Artforum

February 14, 2013

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ICA Boston Mickalene Thomas

December 12, 2012 - April 7, 2013

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ANP Quarterly

Vol 2 / No 7

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The Wall Street Journal

November 23, 2012

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The New Yorker

November 12, 2012

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Financial Times Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe, Brooklyn Museum, New York

November 7, 2012

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The New York Observer

November 5, 2012

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Artforum

November 2012

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Modern Painters

October 2012

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Brooklyn Museum, NY Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe

28 September – 20 January 2012

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The New York Times

September 28, 2012

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The Wall Street Journal

September 27, 2012

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The Wall Street Journal

September 24, 2012

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The New York Times

September 21, 2012

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Time Out New York

September 13-19, 2012

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W Magazine

September 2012

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Vogue

September 2012

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New York Magazine

August 27, 2012

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Art Review

May 31, 2012

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Artinfo

May 15, 2012

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Huffington Post

April 25, 2012

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Los Angeles Times

April 21, 2012

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The New York Times

March 30, 2012

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Artforum

December 31, 2011

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Artforum

December 1, 2011

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Velvet Magazine

October 31, 2011

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The New York Times

October 20, 2011

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Loop 21

October 18, 2011

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The New Yorker

October 7, 2011

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The Village Voice

October 5, 2011

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Photograph Magazine

October 5, 2011

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Whitewall

September 29, 2011

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Artinfo

September 26, 2011

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Arude

September 13, 2011

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Modern Painters

August 31, 2011

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Paper

August 31, 2011

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Bomb

May 31, 2011

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Bomb Video Mickalene Thomas: Behind the Scenes

Summer 2011

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Life and Times

May 23, 2011

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Art in America

February 17, 2011

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Artnews

December 31, 2010

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NBC Washington

August 22, 2010

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A Sky Filled With Shooting Stars

July 29, 2010

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V Magazine In The Flesh

April 30, 2010

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New York Observer A Window on Art: Mickalene Thomas' Shiny Sex-Appeal Paintings

April 26, 2010

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Weltkunst

January 31, 2010

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NY Arts

August 31, 2009

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Time Out New York

April 23, 2009

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Artforum

April 20, 2009

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The New York Times

April 12, 2009

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Nylon

March 31, 2009

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Art + Auction In the Studio

February 28, 2009

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Bomb Number 107 / Spring 2009

February 28, 2009

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Wynwood

November 30, 2008

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Wound Issue 4 / Autumn 2008

September 30, 2008

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Trace

March 31, 2008

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Whitewall

December 31, 2007

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Modern Painters

November 30, 2007

In Mickalene Thomas’s awe-inspiring portraits, a meaningful reflection of black women in art

New York Times


By Katie Booth

 

Over the course of her trailblazing artistic career, Mickalene Thomas has drawn inspiration from prolific artists and pop culture icons alike, from 1970s supermodel Beverly Johnson to Edouard Manet’s Odalisque figures of the 19th Century. From these influences, she’s created a vast body of portraits that critically deconstruct definitions of beauty, race, and gender — specifically for black women — and redefine them on her own terms. Her work has been exhibited in major galleries across the globe and is included in collections at major museums, among them MoMA and the Guggenheim. She’s won numerous grants and awards and over the past decade has been lauded as a leading figure in the art world.

 

Thomas is a chameleon of sorts: she’s worked in a variety of mediums, from performance art to collage, but is best known for her monumental, rhinestone-emblazoned paintings, which are as multi-textured as they are multi-layered with symbolism. The women in Thomas’s portraits convey an absolute feminine power, their unwavering gazes channeling conviction and confidence. In compelling juxtaposition, they  exude the kind of sexuality reminiscent of “blaxploitation” aesthetic of the 1970s. Surrounding them are bold patterns and prints inspired by Thomas’s childhood, and references to art, literature and music.

 

Though inspired in part by a deep understanding of art history and culture, her most meaningful muses have been those women closest to her: an intimate circle of friends, lovers and relatives who she’s collaborated with and photographed over the years. Now, a new photobook and coinciding exhibition at Aperture gallery, Muse, bring Thomas’s muses together for the first time. The result is an inspiring collection of women who are as glamorous as they are real.

 

She may not be best-known for her photographs, but photography has played a pivotal role in Thomas’s career. As an M.F.A. candidate at Yale in the early 2000s, her professors suggested she enroll in a photo class. In search of a willing subject, Thomas found her mother, Sandra “Mama Bush” Bush. The experience proved hugely impactful, helping her to better understand her own femininity and where it fit in relation to the prevailing images of black women in those years, including those embodied by female hip-hop powerhouses Lil’ Kim and Mary J. Blige.

 

Thomas is celebrated for turning the tables on over-sexualized, objectified portrayals of the black female body in the media, and in their place, carving out an authentic and meaningful reflection of black women instead. As seen in Muse, they key in doing so has been to encourage viewers to see these inspirational women through Thomas’s eyes: bold, beautiful, and undeniable. Over email with Women in the World, Thomas shared her thoughts on Muse, how the project got its start, and what she hopes viewers will take away from the exhibition and photobook.

 

 

Women in the World: You’ve named your mother as your first muse. How has she influenced your career as an artist?
Mickalene Thomas: Growing up, watching my mother work as a professional model during the ’70s and ’80s, I was always galvanized by her glamour, tenacity and gracefulness. When I first started taking photographs as a student at Yale, she was the only person that I could convince to pose nude for me and working with her as a model really helped me to understand how her charisma related to me, to my own femininity. Her tenacity not only continues to spark my career today, but her charisma is something that I always want to carry with me as well.

 

 

WITW: Is there a particular quality that unites all of your muses?
MT: Just like my first muse, my mother, all of my muses possess a profound sense of inner confidence and individuality. They are all in tune with their own audacity and beauty in such unique ways. They are unafraid to exude boldness and vulnerability at the same time, and most importantly, they are real.

 

 

WITW: How did you collaborate with these women? Tell us a bit about the process.
MT: A lot of these women are close friends, friends of friends, and lovers of mine. When a model first enters one of my installations, which act as a backdrop for these portraits, she immediately becomes engaged with the space just as an actress would as she enters a theatrical moment or a stage. By styling them and posing them, I’m engaged in a conversation with them, in a sense. The photo shoots are always collaborative, and I prefer to relinquish some authority to my muse in hopes of allowing for her to own the space. By bringing real, genuine aspects of herself, I want the unique beauty and individuality to manifest. They’re not just anonymous props to my work, but rather, real women who insist on their presence with their directness and gaze. Often times, I will title the work after the names of the muses too — I want their presence to be much more pronounced in the world, and not just in that of the arts.

 

 

WITW: How do the portraits in Muse approach and confront harmful, stereotypical portrayals of black women in art and the media?
MT: By portraying real women with their own unique history, beauty and background, I’m working to diversify the representations of black women in art. Around the time I started taking photographs in the early 2000s, there was a dominant stereotype of young, black, female bodies in the media. Women like Mary J. Blige, Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown who were at the forefront of pop culture, appearing in hip-hop magazines were often limited to depicting themselves as objects of desire. It appeared to me that as a black woman, I was subject to the same kind of limitations and framework in which they performed. To further explore these identities, I started to develop Quanikah, my alter-ego that I embodied in my earlier self-portraits. This performative process helped to make sense of the pre-existing notions of what it meant to be a black woman in the public eye. It led me to further challenge the stereotypes portraying real women, the women in my life, the women that I admire and respect.

 

WITW: Throughout your career your work has often been interpreted as feminist, though, so often, the experiences of women of color are left out of feminist discourse. Can you tell us how your work confronts that disparity?
MT: By selecting women of color, I am quite literally raising their visibility and inserting their presence into the conversation. I like to think of the portraits as mirrors, in reference to Lacan’s mirror image theory. We are not validated until we see ourselves, and the mirror is a tangible object that works as an evidence to external appearance. Not only are we present, we demand that we be seen, be heard, and be acknowledged.

 

WITW: What are you hoping your viewers, specifically women of color, might take away from Muse?

MT: I want the same kind of strength and tenacity to shine through all of my viewers. Just as my muses insist on their visibility and identity, I want my viewers to feel present with fierceness and boldness. Through the act of seeing, I want them to feel validated just as much. I want them to claim their rightful space in the world.

 

WITW: In some portraits, you’ve incorporated elements of collage. Describe the role of these other materials in portraying your subjects.
MT: The backdrop of my portraits first started off as a blank wall. I started to play around with fabric just as I did with collages, then continued to incorporate materials that would provide a much more expansive environment. I’ve reupholstered various vintage furniture, and by insetting these elements into the set, they almost become collages in their own right, functioning in three-dimensional spaces. They’re not intended to present a particular, actual period in history, but become activated as tableaus, creating a spatial collage that lends an opportunity to think about real spaces and real time. I’m interested in types of spaces that provide a certain level of intimacy. What kid of places offer room for political, thoughtful, engaging conversations, et cetera.

 

WITW: In your exhibition at Aperture, you’ve also curated a selection, or Tête-à-tête, of work by contemporary photographers that’s inspired you. Can you tell us about one artist in particular and why he or she is meaningful to you?
MT: Tête-à-tête is a visual collaboration through a conversation of images I have with my peers. Each and every artist in this iteration is special to me in such unique ways, but if I specifically had to choose one artist, it would be Malian photographer Malick Sidibé. His work is a major influence in my use of pattern and studio photography, and I love that both of our works make reference to classical, figurative portraiture. It’s inspiring to draw visual similarities between his work and mine, but simultaneously recognize the different types of intimacy that our subject occupy to confront the viewers.

 

Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs and tête-à-tête will be on view at Aperture Gallery in New York City from January 28 through March 17. The photobook can be purchased here. All images courtesy the artist; Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong; and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.