It’s big and sparkly like the proverbial girl’s best friend, but that’s not the only reason I like Mickalene Thomas’s, A Little Taste Outside of Love.
It’s also a smart tongue-in-cheek riff on the familiar tradition of depicting the nude—woman of course—in the history of western art. In this work, Thomas explores the idea of self-representation. By making an African American woman the subject of the painting she recasts traditional depictions in European paintings of black women as maids and servants. (If you are familiar with art history, think about Edouard Manet’s Olympia, which shows a pale courtesan reclining on white sheets with a maid of African descent offering a bouquet of flowers from an admirer.) In A Little Taste Thomas also tweaks European taste for “oriental” themes by removing the nude female body from the sexualized space of the harem and inserting it into an interior that makes reference to taste of the 1970s—the decade in which the artist was born.
You can see the influence of the 70s and the black power movement in the luxuriantly patterned textiles and the woman’s Afro hairdo. Informing Thomas’s painting are her mother’s photographs from the 70s, Blaxploitation movies, and images of iconic black women. I like the interior setting which has a big personality. The patchwork of swatches rendered in gaudy and sometimes clashing patterns suggests a room that is filled with spacial ambiguities. All of the sparkling multicolored rhinestones applied to the surface heighten the decorative qualities of the piece, pushing the glitz factor beyond conventional good taste. Here, Thomas has forged an innovative pictorial language that draws on tradition to create something new and very contemporary. I’m proud that she’s a Brooklyn artist!!!
Eugenie Tsai joined the Brooklyn Museum in the fall of 2007 as John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art. With Patrick Amsellem, she organized 21: Selections of Contemporary Art from the Brooklyn Museum, a long-term installation that opened on September 19, 2008. Previously she was Director of Curatorial Affairs at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Queens, New York. Prior to Joining P. S. 1 in 2005, she was an independent curator with projects for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Berkeley Museum; and the Princeton University Art Museum. She held several positions at the Whitney Museum of American Art prior to becoming Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs. Among the exhibitions and installations she has organized are the mid-career survey Threshold: Byron Kim, 1990-2004; Robert Smithson, which received the International Association of Art Critics’ first place award for the best monographic exhibition of 2005; and for Princeton University, Shuffling the Deck: The Collection Reconsidered. Dr. Tsai received a B. A. from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and a Ph. D. from Columbia University.