THIS FALL, Mickalene Thomas will make a grand statement, presenting all new work in a series of exhibitions in four world capitals, in partnership with Lévy Gorvy. The gallery is hosting the shows at its locations in New York, London, Paris, and Hong Kong.

Over the past two decades, Thomas has built a singular practice that centers Black women and celebrates the Black female body. She is recognized for her elaborate, rhinestone-embellished collage paintings. Her powerful vision explores contemporary notions of beauty, agency, and female sexuality and also engages modern art history, drawing on the influences of Romare Bearden, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Robert Rauschenberg.

Titled “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” the forthcoming exhibition series will debut several bodies of work, paintings as well as installations and video. Each venue will present her work in a specially conceived installation environment. Thomas is showing political paintings that respond to Black activism over the past half century and large-scale portraits that recast 1960s and 70s-era images of Black women from Jet, the Johnson Publishing magazine. The exhibition series also includes a video work made in collaboration with Racquel Chevremont, an art adviser, curator, and collector, who is the artist’s life partner and muse.

“She is a truly great American artist, an inheritor of powerful aesthetic and sociopolitical traditions, who is able to challenge the past, rethink conventions, and propose a different vision for the future.”
— Dominique Lévy

“We are proud to collaborate with Mickalene Thomas to introduce her latest bodies of work to broad and diverse audiences that span time zones and cultures. In Mickalene’s art we see both strength and vulnerability, eloquence and enigma, a temporal painterly sensibility combined with conceptual rigor,” Gallery Co-Founder Dominique Lévy said in a statement announcing the exhibitions.

“She is a truly great American artist, an inheritor of powerful aesthetic and sociopolitical traditions, who is able to challenge the past, rethink conventions, and propose a different vision for the future. It is our joy and honor to share her work internationally at a moment when its powerful relevance and resonance can serve as a call to positive change.”

“Beyond the Pleasure Principle” launches in September at Lévy Gorvy in New York. Subsequent exhibitions open in the weeks following:

 
  • New York | Sept. 9 2021
    The inaugural exhibition presents Thomas’s latest Jet paintings, inspired by images of Black women sourced from the Black-owned magazine’s vintage pinup calendars. The large-scale collage works employ silkscreen, oil and acrylic painting with rhinestone details.
  •  
  • London | Sept. 30, 2021
    Further exploring the symbolism of the magazine’s vintage, photographic images of Black women, the second exhibition will focus on Thomas’s Jet Blue series. The event is her first-ever solo show in London.
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  • Paris | Oct. 7, 2021
    Works from Thomas’s Tête de Femme series—abstracted and fragmented portraiture inspired by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Andy Warhol—will be on view. The presentation includes an experimental video made in collaboration with Chevremont.
  •  
  • Hong Kong | Oct. 14, 2021
    The fourth installment features Thomas’s Resist paintings, large-scale, multi-layered silkscreen and acrylic paintings that draw on documentary photography, paying homage to the legacy of Black women committed to the fight for civil rights.
 

The four-part global exhibition coincides with a major publication. Thomas’s first comprehensive monograph will be released in November by Phaidon. Made in close collaboration with the artist, the fully illustrated volume explores the breadth of her practice, spanning painting, collage, photography, video, and installation. An interview with Thomas is featured, alongside essays by Kellie Jones and Roxane Gay.

BROOKLYN-BASED THOMAS turned 50 earlier this year, a blessed milestone matched by the ambitious scope of her latest project. “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” opens a new chapter in the artist’s career, elevates her international profile and, along with the arrival of her new monograph, highlights the complexity and range of the visual language she has developed over the years.

The new works expand some of her most culturally and art historically engaging series. Tête de Femme was first introduced at Lehmann Maupin Gallery in 2014.

Envisioned in 2017, “Resist” was one of three new paintings Thomas produced for “Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, and Mickalene Thomas” at the Seattle Art Museum. The work responds to the unabated police violence faced by Black Americans and the enduring fight for civil rights, justice, and humanity.

Layers of screenprinted documentary photography are married with a spectrum of color, call to mind Rauschenberg. Familiar, hard-to-see scenes populate black-and-white images—protestors calling for freedom; police beating John Lewis at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965; Walter Gadsden being attacked by a police dog in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963. The latter is the central image that anchors the painting. There’s also a portrait of James Baldwin.

The density of the composition adds to the urgency of the message embedded in Thomas’s title. Over the years, Thomas has considered a variety of cultural issues primarily through portraiture. The Resist series is arguably her most overtly political.

“I’ve been wanting to do something sociopolitical for a while,” Thomas told the New York-based Observer. “With everything that’s been happening, I started collecting and sourcing these images.”

She added: “I started thinking about James Baldwin. How would James Baldwin respond to what’s happening today? If he was here, he would look and see that nothing has changed.”

Women have always been change makers. Pioneering historic figures went largely unseen during the Civil Rights Movement and a new generation of female activists is at the forefront of the contemporary movement for Black social justice. Additions to the Resist series that will be on view in Hong Kong, feature images of women on the frontlines of social change and symbols of the Black Lives Matter era.

For the title of the exhibition, Mickalene Thomas references Janet Jackson’s 1986 anthem, “The Pleasure Principle,” and Beyond the Pleasure Principles (1920) the pivotal essay by Sigmund Freud. The work of both cultural figures has informed the artist’s practice.

Given the charged politics of race, representation, and gender in America, the favorable lens through which Mickalene Thomas views and presents Black women—their bodies, their agency, their sexuality, their desire, their beauty and individuality—may be considered just as political by some as the issues she raises in Resist.

“The gaze in my work is unapologetically a Black woman’s gaze loving other Black women,” she said at the start of a 2019 video by Art Basel. Thomas went on to speak about her longstanding engagement with Jet and the influence the publication has had on her cultural perspective and formulation of what beauty looks like.

“One of the things that is really a constant in my life is Jet magazine and the Beauty of the Week. Jet magazine was this Black American cultural media bible. It was everything,” Thomas said.

“And then there was this page about the Beauty of the Week, which was fascinating. Who are these women? The description of who they are and thinking about Janet who’s from Atlanta who does horseback riding and who goes to Spelman or whatever and they are in these bathing suits, like these pageantries. That was like for me this first notion of beauty.” CT

 

IMAGE: Top of page, MICKALENE THOMAS, Detail of “July 1976,” 2021 (rhinestones, acrylic paint, chalk pastel, mixed media paper and archival pigment, prints on museum board mounted on dibond, 84.25 x 61 inches / 213.995 x 154.94 cm). | © Mickalene Thomas / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

ON VIEW In conjunction with the presentation of “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” at Lévy Gorvy Paris, Mickalene Thomas is showing a series of collages at Galerie Nathalie Obadia in Paris (October)

 

BOOKSHELF
The first comprehensive monograph of Mickalene Thomas is forthcoming in November. Phaidon is pre-selling signed editions of the monograph. “Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe,” coincided with the artist’s first solo museum exhibition and “Muse: Mickalene Thomas, Photographs” gathers her photography work for the first time. Also consider “Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires,” “Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me,” and “Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas.”

 

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