Mickalene Thomas’s brash, exuberant paintings don’t care what you think of them; they are much too busy simply — or not so simply — being themselves. Their sense of independence is driven home by this artist’s invigorating exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, along with the realization that the museum’s populist program sometimes hits the nail on the head.
The New York Times
By Roberta Smith
Published: September 27, 2012
Qusuquzah Standing Sideways, 2012. Chromogenic photograph.
Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York
Organized by the Santa Monica Museum of Art in California, and substantially expanded in Brooklyn, “Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe” is a show of broad appeal, free of dumbing down. It has examples of the large, color photo-portraits and clusters of the small, truculent collages that function as studies for Ms. Thomas’s paintings while being works of art themselves. But it is dominated by her big, collagelike paintings, which often depict voluptuous, imperious black women amid swaths of brightly patterned fabrics. The unabashed visual richness of these works attests to the power of the decorative while extending the tenets of Conceptual identity art into an unusually full-bodied form of painting. Enhanced by burning colors; outrageously tactile, rhinestone-studded surfaces; and fractured, almost Cubist perspectives, these images draw equally from 19th- and 20th-century French modernism, portrait painting, 1970s blaxploitation extravagance and an array of postwar pictorial styles.
In all, Ms. Thomas’s portraits, reclining odalisques and figure groups, and also her cacophonous landscapes and more sedate interiors cover many bases: aesthetic, political, art-historical and pop-cultural. Their sheer complexity makes them seem close to self-sufficient, secure in their ability to reach most viewers on one wavelength or another. They set the eye and brain whirring, parsing subversive meanings and quotations, skipping among mediums and savoring the contrasting surface textures, which include slatherings and smooth, enamel-like finishes and thin, brushy strokes.
Above all, these works convey a pride of person that gives any viewer — not only women — an occasion to rise to. It should be noted, however, that the show’s title wickedly plays on “The Origin of the World,” the title of Gustave Courbet’s notorious 1866 painting of a naked female crotch, expanding its scope from the merely planetary to the intergalactic. More to the point is the effrontery with which the works on view — including two versions of this particular Courbet — confound narrow ideals of beauty and taste while subverting the male gaze and broadening the possibilities of painting.
For complete New York Times Article, visit: http://nyti.ms/S2GcJz
For more information on the ‘Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe,’ exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, please visit: http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/mickalene_thomas