Sparkle Plenty, Move Over Manet

Installation view of Mickalene Thomas's Les Dejeuner sur l’herb Les Trois Femmes Noires, 2010.

Installation view of Mickalene Thomas’s Les Dejeuner sur l’herb Les Trois Femmes Noires, 2010.

It’s large-scale, monumental painting of beautiful women languishing amidst patterned profusion, but it’s not Manet or Monet. Unlike MoMA’s modern masters, you’re encountering Afro-wearing, rhinestone-studded Black lovelies with an ambiance of the 1970s and Blaxploitation about them.

It’s all the work of Mickalene Thomas (originally from Camden, New Jersey, and now Brooklyn) in the grand show, Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe, mounted first by the Santa Monica Museum of Art and now expanded by the Brooklyn Museum.

Thomas uses an encyclopedic knowledge of art history and museum-world references to tease viewers to reflect on how her fancy, sparkly ladies are equally worthy of fine-art treatment as any ruffed Dutch gal from the 1600s or French odalisque.

Installation view of part of Mickalene Thomas's depiction of her mother: "Ain’t I Woman, Sandra," 2009. Rhinestones, acrylic paint, and oil enamel on wood panel. DVD and framed monitor; rhinestones, acrylic paint, and enamel on wood.

Installation view of part of Mickalene Thomas’s depiction of her mother: Ain’t I Woman, Sandra, 2009. Rhinestones, acrylic paint, and oil enamel on wood panel. DVD and framed monitor; rhinestones, acrylic paint, and enamel on wood.

Enamored of slightly vintage interior decor magazines, Thomas constructs settings in her studio corner and photographs her subjects dressed in 70s prints laying on 70s sofas in wood-paneled rooms. Later she turns these into paintings merged with old photos, faux wood paneling, and Photoshop fracturing on a large scale. Check out the Flickr gallery.

On every visit, crowds gather in the back video gallery to hear her mother tell the story of how she changed her ways from a drug-addicted girl to a clean and sober, meditation-minded fine-art model for her brilliant, fantastically creative daughter. She’s a stunning model.

See these large-scale works in person this week. Otherwise, catch her work at ICA in Boston through April.

For more, listen in on this discussion between Mickalene Thomas and Carrie Mae Weems. It’s a great insight to how an established artist inspires an emerging artist to forget about law school and do great things in the art world.

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