“A hallmark of Thomas’s work…is what she describes as ‘recognition and acknowledgement and validation: you see me and I see you.’ It can be difficult to tear yourself away from those gazes. But then, why would you want to?”—Nicole Rudick, Paris Review
The work of celebrated, multidisciplinary artist Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971) fills our galleries in this new exhibition that explores her vibrant and resonant dialogue with authorship, identity, desire, and the historically charged relationship between artist and muse. You’ll encounter more than 50 of Thomas’s works, including her signature rhinestone-encrusted paintings as well as collages, sculptures, immersive installations, and the premiere of a multichannel video set to music by Grammy Award–winning drummer, composer, and producer Terri Lyne Carrington. This new work, Je t’aime trois, has been made possible by a Wexner Center Artist Residency Award. The collaborators will also perform entrepe, a live piece inspired by the project, on October 4.
In pursuing fine art degrees at Pratt Institute and Yale University, Thomas didn’t see in art history the strong black women who raised her—women she admired and who looked like her. She turned to examining and expanding on the representation of women of color in art, addressing their absence and celebrating their beauty. With a special focus on the artist’s opulent, grandly scaled paintings, I Can’t See You Without Me looks at four of the most significant muses in Thomas’s work spanning 2001–2018: her late mother, Sandra; her former girlfriend Maya; her current partner, Racquel; and the artist herself. Taking inspiration from iconic portraits (by artists such as Ingres, Manet, and Warhol, to name a few) and 1970s popular culture, among other sources, Thomas masterfully paints these women, asserting their strength, personality, and confidence.
On view September 14–December 30, the exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring new essays on Thomas’s work by Beverly Guy-Sheftall, chair of Comparative Women’s Studies at Spelman College (who joins us for the opening); Nicole R. Fleetwood, associate professor in the Department of American Studies at Rutgers University; and Antwaun Sargent, a New York–based writer and art critic, along with an introduction by exhibition cocurator Michael Goodson.