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Museum Exhibitions & Projects

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

The New York Times


A Confidence Highlighted in Rhinestones

By Carol Kino

A WEEK before the opening of her first New York solo show, the artist Mickalene Thomas welcomed a visitor to her studio in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. The mood seemed preternaturally serene, like the lull before a storm. In one corner stood the campy rumpus-room-style stage set, outfitted with fake wood paneling and gaudily upholstered furniture, where Ms. Thomas poses her models. Next to it was the costume rack, hung with enough sparkly fabric and feathers to outfit a small army of drag queens. Near the window a lone assistant sat hunched over a painting, carefully gluing black, purple and blue rhinestones onto an Afro. More paintings lay on tables and hung on the walls.

Yet Ms. Thomas didn't seem especially interested in showing off her new paintings and photographs. Instead she wanted to talk about the volatile emotions that had possessed her while making the work.

Although she was "finally at the point where it feels O.K.," she said, there were times during the past few weeks when she would ask herself anxious questions: "Do I really want to take this challenge on? Am I ready for it?" A few minutes later she would put on music and find herself dancing wildly around the room, most recently to the indie rocker Feist. Then she would stop and admonish herself, "Mickey, get back to work."

This level of uncertainty isn't exactly what one would expect from Ms. Thomas, known for outrageously decorative paintings that depict black women in different guises: posed demurely in their Sunday best as if for church, sprawled naked like sirens or vamping in vixenish outfits that suggest the 1970s blaxploitation heroines Cleopatra Jones and Foxy Brown. The works themselves, made with acrylic and oil enamel on wood, are covered with intricate patterns and encrusted with rhinestones, suggesting sources as various as Byzantine mosaics, Gustav Klimt, the collagelike cubism of Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence and the sequined Haitian voodoo flags that obsessed Ms. Thomas during her years in the master of fine arts program at Yale.

"I've always been interested in masking, layering, dressing up and beautifying yourself and what that meant to black women," she said. "I've always wanted to make things that I haven't seen before."

Although Ms. Thomas considers herself primarily a painter, she has recently begun to exhibit the different mediums that go into making her paintings, including photography, collage, installation and, most recently, video. "I don't see myself as a photographer," she said, "I still see the photographs and collages as a resource for the painting. But now I think each element of this process can stand on its own."

The work in her current show, "She's Come Undone," running through May 2 at Lehmann Maupin in Chelsea, offers three of those elements. It features paintings and videos, along with a rotating selection of photographs hung in a back office. The show focuses on three women, including the kittenish, outlandishly bosomed Keri, and Fran, a near-ringer for Mary Wilson of the Supremes.

But the most spectacular paintings depict the statuesque woman Ms. Thomas calls "my No. 1 muse" — her mother, Sandra Bush, a former fashion model who works in the special services school district of Bergen County, N.J.

In "Sandra: She's a Beauty" (2009) Ms. Bush sits on a couch, her hands folded in her lap and her knees primly locked together. In "Mama Bush: One of a Kind Two" (2009), she reclines naked, posed like the concubine in Ingres's "Grande Odalisque" (1814), the contours and folds of her flesh glistening with brown rhinestones.

Although Ms. Thomas and her older brother, Paul, were raised solely by her mother after her parents divorced nearly 35 years ago, she spent a few years estranged from her mother while figuring out how to tell her that she is a lesbian. "Using my mother as a model has allowed us time to establish this nice relationship, for me to get to know her," she said. "I feel it's a way of making her happy."

At first blush the women in these artworks seem the very picture of self-confidence. Yet something about them also suggests an amateurish vulnerability — especially in the videos, which show model and artist interacting during the photo shoot — as though their braggadocio had been hard won. That's the sort of ambiguity that interests Ms. Thomas, who has also painted well-known figures like Eartha Kitt, Oprah Winfrey and Condoleezza Rice. "I'm really interested in women," she said, "particularly the kind of black woman who has overcome obstacles in her life and transformed."

Initially, however, it's hard to see how these words apply to Ms. Thomas herself. Now 38, she seems to have been on a steadily upward career trajectory since she graduated from Yale in 2002. Soon after, she was chosen as an artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem. By 2005 she already had an impressive history of important group shows and surveys, and in 2006 she had her solo debut, with Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago.

Her admirers have always seen her as fearless and original. "Mickalene is totally unafraid, and that is a quality I love in artists," said Klaus Biesenbach, chief curator of the media and performance arts department at the Museum of Modern Art, who chose Ms. Thomas for the 2005 survey "Greater New York." "When you do a show like that, you want to know if there's a certain promise. I felt that Mickalene's work was formally very accomplished, I felt it was very strong and political, and I also thought that it was very beautiful. When I first saw it, I said, 'This is really new.' "

In September Ms. Thomas's photographs will be showcased for the first time in another important New York survey, the International Center of Photography Triennial. Christopher Phillips, one of the curators, said her work departs entirely from what he called "the standardized brand" long identified with Yale, known for producing young female photographers whose staged tableaus explore adolescent female identity.

"The layers upon layers of textures, patterns, clothing and the stylistic references to different moments in African-American culture: all that coheres into something that is completely unlike any photographic works out there," he said. "I think there is an audience waiting for an artist whose work evidences such boldness and visual confidence."

Ms. Thomas also seems fearless in her exploration of sexuality and gender. While her work follows in the feminist tradition of subverting the male gaze and letting female subjects seize power, that they are practicing their allure on a female artist gives this dynamic an additional twist. And sometimes the femininity seems so extreme that one wonders if Ms. Thomas's women are quite what they appear to be. "People always ask me, 'Are you going to paint men?' and I always say, 'Well how do you know that I haven't?' " she said. "I'm also playing with artifice, what's real and not real, and how we perceive things."

But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of her story is that she too was once a girly fashion plate. "That's why I have an understanding of these women," she said. "Because I was one of them myself."

In her 20s, back when she was mannequin-svelte and sported waist-length dreadlocks, Ms. Thomas left New Jersey to follow a girlfriend to Portland, Ore., where she supported herself for many years by doing odd jobs, one of which was fashion modeling. "My mother taught me how to walk the runway," she said. For a while she also did some acting. The high point of her career came when she was a featured extra in the 1993 B movie "The Temp."

Then, in 1994, she saw a traveling show by the artist Carrie Mae Weems at Portland State University. "That was the first work I'd seen by an African-American woman," Ms. Thomas said. She was particularly struck by Ms. Weems's 1990 "Kitchen Table Series," a multimedia piece that uses photographs of people seated around a table to explore the complexities of marriage and family relationships.

"It really reminded me of my family," she said. "It was a profound and transforming moment in my life." She visited the show 10 times and developed an obsessive interest in art.

Some months later her best friend urged her to sign up for an art therapy workshop. "It was all white middle-aged women," she said. "I was the only African-American in the group." After spending the weekend talking, writing, painting and crying, she made a series of pastel drawings, which eventually led to the rapprochement with her mother and won her a scholarship to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where she started out making aborigine-inspired abstractions, glitter and other decorative elements infiltrated her work from the start.

"I purchased my art supplies from craft stores," she said. "The materials were cheaper, and they also allowed me to experiment and play." By the time she arrived at Yale, she had moved on to representational painting and sequins. Gradually she settled on rhinestones, and images of women began creeping into her work.

Initially Ms. Thomas used herself and her mother as models. But while in school she began to cut her dreadlocks shorter, and in 2004 she took herself entirely out of the work. "It was really difficult," she said. "It was starting to become about narcissism, which I didn't really want my work to be about." With critical distance her work became more hyper-feminine and decorative, and she began to adopt a more androgynous look.

"Once I removed myself, I think the work got better," she said. "All of my experiences modeling, acting, doing theater, it's all in the work now. And the work freed me to transform myself."