Alright, LA, get ready! Tonight marks the opening for multi-media artist Mickalene Thomas’s first major solo exhibition, which runs through August 19. Not familiar with Thomas? Here’s some background from the Santa Monica Museum of Art’s site:
Thomas is best known for her bold enamel and acrylic paintings adorned with rhinestones, glitter, and “bling.” Her subjects seem to have stepped directly from a 1970s Blaxploitation film, yet Thomas’s influences extend far beyond. Her oeuvre stems from her long study of art history and the classical genres of portraiture, landscape, and still life. Thomas’s layered facture process begins with a photographic portrait that is translated into a collage, and ultimately reenvisioned 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 works in a variety of sizes, shapes, and media. Taking cues from Marcel Duchamp’s Étant Donnés: 1° la chute d’eau, 2° le gaz d’éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas) and Gustave Courbet’s 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 another—portraits of Qusuquzah [above] and Din gaze out at modernist interiors and plein-air landscapes, all confronted by the artist’s arresting recreations of Courbet’s 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. Thomas’s dialogue with Courbet and Duchamp is a strong reclamation of history, reasserting the subjective nature of beauty. In addition to her paintings and photographs, she will create an installation in SMMoA’s Project Room 1, to reinvent Étant Donnés, where the “peep show” reveals the true surprise of a 70s-style paneled interior in the place of Duchamp’s splayed female body.
Here’s a video visit that was done at her Brooklyn studio last year by Life + Times:
Also, check out this behind-the-scenes look at the current exhibit’s installation:
Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe
April 14-August 19, 2012
Opening Reception: Friday, April 13
6 – 7 pm Members’ Preview
7 – 9 pm Public Opening
Saturday, April 14: Mickalene Thomas in Conversation @4PM
Mickalene Thomas visits SMMoA for an exclusive conversation where she will talk about the contemporary and historical influences that inspire her work. Thomas will discuss her exhibition, Origin of the Universe, with Franklin Sirmans, the Terri and Michael Smooke Curator and Department Head of Contemporary Art, LACMA. The conversation will be moderated by Lisa Melandri SMMoA deputy director for exhibitions and programs and the curator of Origin of the Universe.