Mickalene Thomas creates works that introduce a complex vision of what it means to be a woman and expand common definitions of beauty. She has chosen her subjects for this body of work with an eye toward representations of women not typically seen in the canon of figurative painting. Drawing from her long study of art history and the classical genre of portraiture, she has infused her knowledge with more recent influences of popular culture and Pop Art.
In the new work Le dejeuner sur l'herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires, 2009, created specifically for The Modern, Thomas has photographed models in The Museum of Modern Art's Abby Aldrich Sculpture Garden. In February 2010 the large format photographic work will be replaced by a three-panel painting as a second iteration of the original photograph. The photograph, and the painting to follow, details three women, one in the style of a man dressed in drag, referencing Édouard Manet's iconic painting Le déjeuner sur l'herbe from 1862-1863, but also harkening to early images of the Greek myth the Judgment of Paris in which the 'apple of discord' is presented at a wedding banquet with the inscription: "for the fairest one". The apple is claimed by the goddesses Aphrodite, Athena and Hera. In this work, Thomas replaces the apple with a flower as a symbol of the women's sexual prowess.
A New York-based artist, Thomas earned her MFA from Yale University and participated in the Artist-in-Residence program at the Studio Museum in Harlem. She has exhibited extensively and was included in the recent and critically acclaimed exhibitions Landscape Revisited at the Park Avenue Armory;Dress Codes: The Third ICP Triennial of Photography and Video at the International Center of Photography, New York, NY; 30 Americans at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami, FL;21: Selections of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY and Black Is, Black Ain't at the Renaissance Society in Chicago, IL.