SANTA MONICA, CA.- The Santa Monica Museum of Art
presents Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe, the first major solo museum exhibition for this highly acclaimed multi-media artist. Best known for her elaborate paintings of African American women against the backdrop of décor recalled from her childhood, Thomas has created an all-new suite of works that introduce a new model of trans-generational female empowerment as she explores interior and exterior environments in relation to the female figure. The exhibition opened at SMMoA on April 14, 2012 and continues through August 19, 2012. It will then travel to the Brooklyn Museum for display from September 28, 2012 to January 20, 2013.
Thomas is best known for her bold enamel, oil and acrylic paintings adorned with rhinestones, glitter, and bling. Her subjects seem to have stepped directly from a 1970s Blaxploitation film, yet Thomass influences extend far beyond. Her oeuvre stems from her long study of art history and the classical genres of portraiture, landscape, and still life. Thomass layered facture process begins with a photographic portrait that is translated into a collage, and ultimately re-envisioned as a painting. Her imagery comprises careful borrowings from art history and from contemporary popular culture.
For Origin of the Universe, Thomas examines art historical constructs of feminine identity, sexuality, beauty, and power in 15 new paintings in a variety of sizes, shapes, and media, and one photograph. Taking cues from Marcel Duchamps Étant donnés: 1° la chute d'eau, 2° le gaz d'éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas) and Gustave Courbets L'Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World), Thomas presents the female figure as the origin of the universe, focusing on how the female body both engenders and inhabits landscape. The works on view are in communication with one anotherportraits of Qusuquzah and Din gaze out at modernist interiors and plein-air landscapes, all confronted by the artists arresting recreations of Courbets Origin.
In nineteenth-century visual culture, black female sexuality functioned as something to be rejected or disparaged, but Thomas reconfigures these historical tropes into contemporary statements of empowerment. By casting African American women as the heroines of her works, she makes a profound statement regarding gender and racial identity. Thomass dialogue with Courbet and Duchamp is a strong reclamation of history, reasserting the subjective nature of beauty. In addition to her paintings and photograph, she will create an installation in SMMoAs Project Room 2, to reinvent Étant donnés, where the peep show reveals the true surprise of a 70s-style paneled interior in the place of Duchamps splayed female body.
Mickalene Thomas was born in 1971 and lives and works in New York. She earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree from Pratt Institute and a Masters of Fine Arts from Yale University. Thomas has participated in residency programs at the Versailles Foundation Munn Artists Program, Giverny, France, and 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, and is included in the important collections of 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; The Museum of Fine Arts Boston; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe is organized by the Santa Monica Museum of Art; SMMoA Deputy Director Lisa Melandri is the exhibition curator.