— The Henry welcomes artist Mickalene Thomas (U.S., born 1971) for an exhibition of her photographic images and influences. Best known for her large-scale, multi-textured paintings of domestic interiors and portraits, Thomas first began to photograph herself and her mother as a student at Yale—a pivotal experience for her as an artist.
While working across multiple series, much of her photographic work functions as a personal act of staging and reappropriation. With each series, she grapples with and asserts new definitions of beauty and inspiration. Thomas’ portraits draw equally from 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, to mention a few.
Perhaps of greatest importance, however, is that this collection of portraits and performed scenes reflects a very personal community of inspiration as well—a collection of muses that includes herself, her mother, and her friends and lovers, emphasizing the communal and social aspects of art-making and creativity that pervade her work. This exhibition and its accompanying publication are the first to gather together Thomas’ various approaches to photography, including chromogenic color prints, collages, and Polaroids.
On the occasion of the Henry’s presentation of MUSE: Mickalene Thomas Photographs and tête-à-tête, Thomas has prepared a video installation of Je t’aime (2014) and Je t’aime deux (2016), and has curated a selection of video works by the artists included in tête-á-tête. These are on view in facing galleries, in keeping with Thomas’s commitment to dialogue across communities of inspiration. The exhibition at the Henry also includes a reconstruction of the artist’s studio, a tableau depicted in many of the photographs.
The idea of communities of inspiration is further carried out via tête-à-tête, an installation curated by Thomas of work from photographers and key images that have inspired her. This includes work from older generations of artists as well as more contemporary artists who are part of her generation or younger, and may in turn find inspiration in Thomas’ own practice. Artists in tête-à-tête include Derrick Adams, Renée Cox, John Edmonds, Zachary Fabri, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Lyle Ashton Harris, Deana Lawson, Nicole Miller, Zanele Muholi, Malick Sidibé, Xaviera Simmons, Hank Willis Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems.
MUSE: Mickalene Thomas Photographs is organized by Aperture Foundation, New York. The exhibition is supported, in part, by the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc. The presentation at the Henry is organized by Sylvia Wolf, John S. Behnke Director.