Oh Mickalene Thomas how I love your work. Thomas' piece at the Brooklyn Museum 'A Little Taste Outside of Love' (2007) was one of the first works I wrote about when I first moved to Brooklyn almost 3 years ago. The jeweled Venus reclining on a multi-patterned mess of pillows was a woman of color. The artwork was dripping with sparkle, color and intersecting patterns. It was monumental and subversive I wrote. I saw a brown woman as Venus, occupying a space not traditionally doled out to her and claiming it fabulously.
I saw her Chelsea show at the Lehmann Maupin gallery in mid-December. The show was dedicated to Mama Bush, her Mother a former fashion model who died a week before the opening of the show. She photographed her Mother in various positions that elucidated the complex layers of a woman who has lived her life with force and vibrancy. At the back of the gallery is an installation that seems to be the imagined living room of Mama Bush. A portrait of Michelle Obama and a larger one of Mama Bush herself graced the wood-paneling, while geometric and floral patterns on all the pillows and furniture competed for the eye's first look. You can imagine Mama Bush, in all her glory and glitz, perching on an ottoman long cigarette in hand and balancing a cocktail in the other.
Thomas' show 'Origin of the Universe' at the Brooklyn Museum was filled with grand portraits that covered whole gallery walls. They all used her signature style of enamel and rhinestone encrustation. In the connecting hallways were collages, cutouts of different patterns layered with photographs of the goddesses.
Art historical giants Courbet and Gauguin reared their heads as references in a few paintings. Most obviously with 'Origin of the Universe 2,' which turns Courbet's 'L'Origine du monde' (1866) into a sparkly non-white vagina, but also with other paintings where she inverts the subject matter of a known art historical work to be a commentary on race. I see a nod to Gauguin in a lot of her female figures. The artist who heavily exoticized the women and children of Tahiti. In may cases showing the people as wild, unsophisticated aboriginals.
The last room at the 'Origin of the Universe' exhibit was a collection of corner installations of living room snippets, decorated in the style of Mama Bush's living room at Lehmann Maupin. However, they were each different and contained their own eccentricities. It felt like a peek into a 1970s intimate living room party where glasses of lemonade would be shared and gossip would be exchanged.