2010. C-print, artist proof 2/2, 48 x 60 inches. Courtesy of the artist, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Lehmann Maupin, NY and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
In “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: les trois femmes noires” (2010), Thomas transforms Edouard Manet’s notorious canvas (1862-3) into a collaged photograph, as well as a large-scale rhinestone-encrusted mural. Thomas has replaced Manet’s scandalizing dressed men and naked women with three black women who gaze directly at the viewer, dressed to the nines in sundresses, hoop earrings, and full make-up. Of the photograph, Thomas said, “When I was looking through the lens and trying to compose the image I wanted to have the depth of field that Manet has with the woman in the background, and it created that same environment with the Matisse sculpture taking the place of the fourth figure. Everything fell into place. Everything felt right. I didn’t have to try reconstructing things or forcing things. I saw it and I responded and it worked.”
Mickalene Thomas excavates Western art history, specifically the history of female portraiture, addressing politics of visibility by inserting black women into iconic Western paintings: at time posing them nude, at other times surrounded by 1970s disco-era popular and material culture. The subjects are often women from Thomas’s own life, including most notably her mother and herself. Thomas has restaged themes and symbolism with a long lineage in Western art in her references to the exoticization and objectification of women in representational genres such as the Odalisque, updating and challenging these through a female intersubjective gaze and same-sex desire.
Mickalene Thomas was born in New Jersey in 1971. She earned her BFA from Pratt Institute in 2000 and her MFA from Yale University in 2002. In 2002-2003 she participated in the Artist-in‐Residence program at the Studio Museum in Harlem and in 2011 she was a resident at the Versailles Foundation Munn Artists Program in Giverny, France. Recent awards include the 2012 Brooklyn Museum Asher B. Durand Award, the Timerhi Award for Leadership in the Arts and the Joan Mitchell Grant and the Pratt Institute Alumni Achievement Award in 2009. Thomas has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally, including at the Hara Museum in Tokyo, Japan; at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.; and La Conservera Contemporary Art Centre in Ceutí, Spain. A major solo exhibition, “Origin of the Universe,” took place at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2012. Thomas’s work is represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park, KS, the Rubell Collection in Miami, FL, and the American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Thomas is represented by Lehmann Maupin in New York, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects and Galerie Nathalie Obadia in Paris. Mickalene Thomas lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.