Go See: Mickalene Thomas’s ‘She’s Come UnDone!’ at Lehmann Maupin in New York through May 2, 2009

March 31st, 2009

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‘Don’t forget about me (Keri)’ by Mickalene Thomas via Lehmann Maupin

Open now at Lehmann Maupin in Chelsea is ‘She’s Come UnDone!’, an exhibition of photographs, paintings, and collages by Mickalene Thomas. This is Thomas’s first solo show in New York, coming on the heels of growing international attention in the past few years. Thomas is known for paintings of black women, sometimes nude, often in a kitschy 1970s domestic setting with lots of woodgrain paneling and animal prints, and incorporating a lot of rhinestones.

Artists On Artists / Mickalene Thomas By Kara Walker [Bomb]
In the Studio: Mickalene Thomas [Art + Auction]
Mickalene Thomas – She’s Come UnDone! [Lehmann Maupin]
Mickalene Thomas

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Installation view of Mickalene Thomas’s ‘She’s Come UnDone!’ via Lehmann Maupin

Thomas’s work draws most from classical portraiture, but is highly informed by Pop Art and pop culture, with a strong emphasis on racial, but particularly, gender identity. Her signature works are medium-sized panels of black women in 70s attire in a setting one could find in advertisements in back issues of Ebony magazine, exuding sexuality and power. Rhinestones outlining features such as eyes and lips, as well as clothes and jewelry accentuate the women’s vibrancy. In Bomb magazine, artist Kara Walker claims that Thomas’s ‘chocolate-colored sisters with statuesque thighs, supple flesh, and meandering hair announce the promise of womanist agency.’ Put forth by Alice Walker, best known for her novel The Color Purple, womanism is a black critique of ‘white’ feminism, but is also a declaration of love for other women, sexually or not.

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‘A-E-I-O-U and sometimes Y’ by Mickalene Thomas via Lehmann Maupin

Derived from photographs taken of sitting models (often friends and relatives), the subsequent paintings and collages are testaments of Thomas’s love for women and their bodies, and as she is also a frequent subject of her work, her own body. Evolving from the male exploitative gazes of Manet or Balthus, Thomas reverses the power dynamic of subject and object. Her ‘Ain’t I a woman’ series features small bust portraits coupled with a video of the model’s photo shoot. In the videos one sees a woman self-consciously presenting herself to Thomas’s unseen camera, nervousness melting into coy smiles and sassy hair shaking.

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‘Naughty Girls (need love too)’ by Mickalene Thomas via Lehmann Maupin

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‘Ain’t I a woman (Sandra)’ by Mickalene Thomas via Lehmann Maupin

In ‘A-E-I-O-U and sometimes Y’ Thomas mimes Andy Warhol’s ‘Photo Booth’ paintings, with 40 panels painted in outline from photo booth portraits with a primary color palette. The rich textures of Thomas’s other works come from the artist’s childhood, interior design inspired by African textiles and a newly emerging sense of African-American identity as filtered by pop culture. But while Thomas’s work recalls Blaxploitation and raise pointedly political questions, Thomas hopes that her work will be read beyond that of her cultural identity as a black woman painting other black women, and fall into the art historical canon next to the likes of Courbet.

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Installation view of Mickalene Thomas’s ‘She’s Come UnDone!’ via Lehmann Maupin

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‘Mama Bush: One of a Kind Two’ by Mickalene Thomas via Lehmann Maupin

Mickalene Thomas received an MFA from Yale in 2002, after which she participated in the Artist-in-Residence program at the Studio Museum in Harlem. She has participated in several major exhibitions, including Americans at the Rubell Family Collection, Black Is, Black Ain’t at the Renaissance Society, and Greater New York 2005 at PS1 Contemporary Art Center, and recently had a solo show at Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago. ‘She’s Come UnDone!’ runs March 26-May 2, 2009 at Lehmann Maupin in New York.

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‘Ain’t I a woman (Keri)’ by Mickalene Thomas via Lehmann Maupin