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Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe

DATES September 28, 2012 through January 20, 2013
COLLECTIONS Contemporary Art
  • MICKALENE THOMAS Origin of the Universe
    Brooklyn-based artist Mickalene Thomas (born Camden, New Jersey, 1971) is renowned for her eye-catching paintings of African American women rendered in acrylic and enamel and embellished with rhinestones. A cultural omnivore with an extensive knowledge of Western art history, Thomas engages in a dialogue with art-historical traditions throughout her work. The title Thomas chose for this exhibition, Origin of the Universe, is a riff on the 1866 painting L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World), by the French artist Gustave Courbet.

    While absorbing lessons of portraiture, landscape, still life, and the female nude taught by the work of Courbet and other iconic male artists including Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, and Henri Matisse, Thomas also takes inspiration from the photographic series of Carrie Mae Weems. A successful African American female artist, Weems provided Thomas with an important role model. Thomas’s diverse source material also includes architecture, interior design, film, music, and the emblems of the Black Power movement. As a black woman artist who depicts black women in genres traditionally dedicated to white subjects, Thomas challenges the conventional parameters of Western art history.

    Focusing on her production of the past two years, Origin of the Universe, Thomas’s first solo museum exhibition, presents her ongoing exploration of black female beauty, power, and sexual identity in portraits and figurative work, as well as her more recent investigations of domestic interiors and landscapes. Enhanced by works created specifically for the Brooklyn presentation, the exhibition includes not only paintings but photographs, film, installations, and collages, revealing how the artist’s ideas unfold in different media.
  • May 1, 2012: The Brooklyn Museum will present the first solo museum exhibition by Brooklyn-based multimedia artist Mickalene Thomas, best known for her vibrant paintings of African American women against backdrops of decor recalled from her childhood. On view September 28, 2012, through January 20, 2013, Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe, which highlights the artist’s work from the past two years, will include some ninety-three pieces, among them a new body of work that explores landscapes and interiors. For the Brooklyn venue, Thomas has made new pieces, including a mural that will hang in the entrance gallery, as well as installations of furnished domestic interiors that evoke the settings in her paintings.

    Thomas’s work grows from a long study of art history, drawing inspiration from the classical genres of portraiture, landscape, and still life, as well as from contemporary popular culture, the imagery of which she uses to explore issues of identity and race, as well as beauty and the self. Her work, which synthesizes a wide range of artistic and cultural references into a unique vision of the world, presents a complex perspective on what it means to be a woman and expands common definitions of beauty.

    Thomas’s oeuvre investigates the body in relationship to the landscape and interior spaces through a pictorial style that reimagines past masterworks and transforms them in a modern-day idiom for the present. Her signature portraits of vibrant black women in photographs, paintings, and collages explore artifice, masking, and costuming. Her interiors draw on a range of historical periods, from the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century to the present.

    Working with models drawn from her circle of friends and relatives, she outfits them with carefully selected wigs, costumes, and makeup, then poses them in looks inspired by black popular culture from the 1970s to the present. Although her referents are often the anonymous models depicted in works by such artists as Manet and Matisse, Thomas frequently identifies her own subjects in her titles.

    Among the works included in the exhibition will be Mama Bush III, a portrait of the artist’s mother influenced by Ingres’s Le Grand Odalisque; Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires, a rhinestone-studded, acrylic-and-enamel painting inspired by Manet’s famous work, in which Thomas substitutes three black women evoking 1970s blaxploitation films for the Paris demimonde trio pictured in the Manet version; a collage, Marie: Femme Noir nue Couchee, that synthesizes a long pictorial history of subordination and obliteration; and her contemporary riff on Courbet’s The Origin of the World.

    Born in 1971, Mickalene Thomas is the recipient of a BFA from Pratt Institute and an MFA from Yale University. She has participated in residency programs at the Versailles Foundation Munn Artists Program, Giverny, France, and at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. Her work has been shown in group exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; The Renaissance Society, Chicago; and MoMA PS1, New York. Among the many public institutions whose collections include her work are the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

    Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe has been organized by the Santa Monica Museum of Art and curator Lisa Melandri. The Brooklyn presentation is organized by Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum.

    Generous support for this exhibition was provided by Forest City Ratner Companies and the Stephanie and Tim Ingrassia Contemporary Art Exhibition Fund.

    The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color, illustrated catalogue.

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  • August 1, 2012: Several new works by multimedia artist Mickalene Thomas influenced by her long-standing interest in interior design, including four installations evoking the sets she creates in her studio for photographing models, will be featured in the Brooklyn presentation of her first solo museum exhibition. On view September 28, 2012, through January 20, 2013, Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe will include nearly 100 works, among them paintings and collages of domestic interiors and four room installations, inspired by the artist’s childhood memories and her interest in the 1970s.

    The rooms created by Thomas will include wood paneling, furnishings, textiles, and works of art and are similar to the backdrops that appear in her paintings of African American women, for which she is best known. The artist’s paintings and collages, most of mid-twentieth-century uninhabited modernist interiors, as well as the installations, were also influenced by her investigation of vintage books on modern decor, such as the 1970 eighteen-volume set The Practical Encyclopedia of Good Decorating and Home Improvement.

    Thomas‘s oeuvre investigates the body in relationship to interior spaces and the landscape through a pictorial style that transforms past masterworks by reimagining them in a modern-day idiom. Her interiors draw on a range of historical periods, from the nineteenth century to the present.

    Among the paintings and collages of interiors included in the exhibition are works inspired by Thomas’s 2011 residence at Claude Monet’s home in Giverny, France, such as La Maison de Monet and Interior: Fireplace with Monet Tiles, as well as the rhinestone-studded Interior: Striped Foyer, Interior: Blue Couch with Green Owl, and Interior: Green and White Couch.

    Thomas’s work grows from a long study of art history, drawing inspiration from the traditional genres of portraiture, landscape, and still life, as well as from popular culture, whose imagery she uses to explore issues of identity and race, as well as beauty and self. Her work, which synthesizes a wide range of artistic and cultural references, presents a complex perspective on what it means to be a woman and expands common definitions of beauty.

    Her signature portraits of vibrant black women in photographs, paintings, and collages explore artifice, masking, and costuming. Working with models drawn from her circle of friends and relatives, she outfits them with carefully selected costumes, wigs, and makeup, and then poses them in carefully composed “rooms” carved out of her studio space.

    Born in 1971, Mickalene Thomas received a B.F.A. from Pratt Institute and an M.F.A. from Yale University. She has participated in residency programs at the Versailles Foundation, Munn Artists Program, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Her work has been shown in group exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; The Renaissance Society, Chicago; and MoMA PS1, New York. Among the many public institutions whose collections include her work are the Brooklyn Museum; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

    Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe was organized by the Santa Monica Museum of Art and Lisa Melandri, former Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programs. The significantly expanded Brooklyn presentation is organized by Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum.

    Generous support for this exhibition was provided by Forest City Ratner Companies, Giulia Borghese and the Stephanie and Tim Ingrassia Contemporary Art Exhibition Fund.

    The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color, illustrated catalogue.

    Press Area of Website View Original
Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe