Mickalene Thomas Enchants with "Origin of the Universe"
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Last month Moon and I finally visited Mickalene Thomas's first-ever solo exhibit and retrospective, "Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe," at the Brooklyn Museum, which runs until 20 Jan 2013.
Mickalene Thomas's work is immediately recognizable even to the most amateur of art-goers: the evocative sexuality, the black female sensuality, the retro '70s glitter-glamour. Amazing. She has, like the most renown of artists, from Picasso to Cindy Sherman, created a unique brand. There is no equivalent.
Din, une très belle négresse #2, 2012. Rhinestone, acrylic paint and oil enamel on wood panel, 102 x 84 x 2 in. (259.1 x 213.4 x 5.1 cm). Private Collection, Boston, MA. Courtesy of the Artist
This exhibit features 93 pieces, both new and old, in addition to a series of installations of furnished domestic interiors, using her personal items and furniture, that evoke the settings of her iconic paintings, as well as a short film that features her mother—Thomas's muse.
According to the press release: "Thomas’s oeuvre investigates the body in relationship to the landscape and interior spaces through a pictorial style that reimagines past masterworks and transforms them in a modern-day idiom for the present. Her signature portraits of vibrant black women in photographs, paintings, and collages explore artifice, masking, and costuming. Her interiors draw on a range of historical periods, from the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century to the present."
Two of my favorite pieces were the eponymous ones, both interpretations of Courbet's famous painting of a slightly different name ("Origin of the World"):
It's easy to dismiss these paintings as too recursive or too reflective of a traditional past a la Audre Lorde's mantra "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house," but there's something fundamentally different about them from the original..not to mention that Courbet doesn't have full authority or copyright of the female vagina. Could it be that the artist's subjectivity—here, a black lesbian (who I read as butch)—in part determines how I both feel and read the painting? That these are sensual, primeval, originial—as opposed to clinical and invasive, the feelings I have looking at Courbet's.
Against the broad movement of postmodernism, I'd argue yes...the artist is very much a part of her painting. The creator is, indiscernably albeit perceptibly so, a part of her work.
More on this in my next Pop Theory column. Stay tuned!
The Brooklyn Museum
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