This exhibition of more than 40 works by the acclaimed African American artist Mickalene Thomas also includes a selection of works by artists who inspired her: Derrick Adams, Renée Cox, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Lyle Ashton Harris, Deana Lawson, Zanele Muholi, Malick Sidibé, Xaviera Simmons, Hank Willis Thomas and Carrie Mae Weems.
Thomas is well known for her paintings encrusted with rhinestones, but she has worked in photography since she was a graduate student at Yale more than two decades ago. Her photographs draw on a wide range of influences — from art history to popular culture, from Henri Matisse's odalisques to images of 1970s supermodel Beverly Johnson — but they all focus on beauty and what it means to be a woman.
Exhibition overview from museum website
Whether you go or not, Muse: Mickalene Thomas: Photographs, is the first publication to gather together Thomas' various approaches to photography, including portraits, collages, Polaroids and other processes. The work is a personal act of deconstruction and reappropriation. Working primarily in her studio, Thomas' portraits draw equally from memories of her mother, 1970s black-is-beautiful images of women such as supermodel Beverly Johnson and actress Vonetta McGee, Édouard Manet's odalisque figures and the mise-en-scène studio portraiture of James Van Der Zee and Malick Sidibé. The interior space of her studio, a reappearing character in many of her photographs and paintings, frequently takes on as much of a performative role as her models do. The space exudes a thick, cozy physicality from its layers of fur, rugs, wood paneling and multipatterned linoleum tiles—all of which are richly laden with sensory triggers of a 1970s American rumpus room. Mickalene Thomas, known for her large-scale, multitextured and rhinestone-encrusted paintings of domestic interiors and portraits, identifies the photographic image as a defining touchstone for her practice. Thomas began to photograph herself and her mother as a student at Yale, studying under David Hilliard—a pivotal experience for her as an artist.