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Mickalene Thomas

Jet: beautés du mois
September 25 - November 16, 2019
Cloître Saint-Merri, Paris










 

Galerie Nathalie Obadia is very pleased to present Mickalene Thomas: Jet: beautés du mois. This is the gallery’s third exhibition with the American artist, Mickalene Thomas, who is an essential figure in the art scene of the United States. Thomas’ work has diversified the representation of African-American women in art and pop culture by exploring notions of femininity, beauty, and agency, as most notable in her portraits and domestic interiors staged in powerfully evocative ways.

 

Mickalene Thomas: Jet: beautés du mois will present a collection of recent paintings on wood panels and collages on paper, two mediums of choice for the artist. The works repurpose and reclaim images from the Jet Magazine pinup calendars, published from 1971-1977. Since its founding in 1952, Jet Magazine contained political and cultural coverage—covering the Civil Rights movement from its inception—in addition to beauty and fashion trends and entertainment news. Each issue included its now iconic “Jet Beauties of the Week,” which consisted of full-page features of African-American models. The Jet Calendar was advertised as the first “black is beautiful” calendar, shifting Jet away from presenting Eurocentric beauty standards. Most Jet Beauties were not professional models, but rather were students, housewives and “career women” who submitted their photographs for Jet’s consideration. In her new works, Thomas reimagines Jet’s representation of African-American women as objects of desire, composing figures within ornamental tableaus to exhibit black and female empowerment.

 

The subjects chosen by Thomas are cut out and then freely juxtaposed against an array of materials: silkscreen prints made in her New York studio, oil or acrylic paints, enamel, and rhinestones. The multiplicity of these sources and techniques result in a layered vivacity where vivid colors often appear in contrast to the faded and grainy photographs of the Jet Beauties, further accentuating the historical quality of the sourced material. In certain works, Thomas selectively pixelates specific components of the figure or background, building on the artist’s signature collage motif to decode and reassemble complex socio-cultural structures.

 

In her broader practice, Thomas also works with photography, film, sculpture and installations, oftentimes designing immersive environments that seem to spring directly from her own pictorial compositions. Staging is essential in Thomas’ art, particularly during photo shoots where she stages not only the set but more importantly the subjects, which, much like the Jet Beauties, are oftentimes not professional models but striking individuals Thomas has encountered in her own life. Through these environments, the artist creates her own iconographic repertoire composed of 1970s and 1980s décor and a patchwork of prints, photographs, solid matte colors, and metallic or rhinestoned surfaces. The resulting work contains a visual dynamism reminiscent of synthetic cubism and the cut paper collages of Romare Bearden and Matisse.

 

Thomas also references a history of art that has consistently denied the influence of black models. Her artwork simultaneously pays homage to and yet critiques the traditions of famous avant-garde portraits of the 19th century that have chronicled the history of painting as well as the evolution of society itself. Her work takes on the erotic and scandalous potential of the “Odalisque” by Ingres, as well as “Olympia” or “The Luncheon on the Grass” by Manet, all while questioning notions of beauty throughout the course of history.

 

Thomas has several other forthcoming solo exhibitions in the United States, including Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires, Contemporary Art Center, New Orleans, LA (2019); Mickalene Thomas: A Moment's Pleasure, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD (2019); and Better Nights, Bass Museum of Art, Miami, FL (2019). Through an exceptionally informed body of work that combines technical mastery with visual seduction, Mickalene Thomas has established herself within a lineage of great American artists as one of the most influential contemporary artists of her time.