Installation view of Mickalene Thomas, “Better Nights,” at The Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, 2019. Courtesy of The Bass.
In 2013 Thomas conceived Better Days, the large-scale art bar installation at Galerie at Volkshaus, in Downtown Basel. The inspiration for the 2013 edition and the currently Better Nights is Thomas’s mom’s parties during the late 1970s.
At her new show “Better Nights,” at The Bass in Miami Beach, Thomas invites the spectator into a warm environment that echoes celebration and community. Through this multi-room installation, a sense of calmness and intimacy is placed into the hectic atmosphere of Miami art week.
Stripes, tie-dye, crochet, and earth tones invite you into Thomas’s world. The first room of the exhibition is adorned with checked flooring and faux wood panelling while the mismatching vibrant custom sofas surround you. Along the warm walls are pieces of work by Derrick Adams, Nina Chanel Abney, Xaviera Simmons, Lyle Ashton Harris, and Paul Mpagi Sepuya.
The Black body is centrally themed throughout each room. The various black bodies depicted take on various layers “masks” that At the end of the hall is a room adorned in a wall to wall mirrors, dim lighting, hanging greenery, and dark couches. Throughout the placement of the mirrors are Thomas’s Swarovski crystal mirrors. As the spectator may begin to unpack their own appearance in the mirrors Thomas layers her own work onto the viewer.
The environment that Thomas creates throughout Better Nights is an intrapersonal experience that immerses spectators into her childhood mind. The origins and inspirations of the planning for the exhibition is directly from Thomas’s mother’s polaroids. Similar to the purposefully placed lighting in Better Nights, Thomas shines a magnifying glass on marginalized people including a woman and the LGBTQ community.
Moving through space allows the spectator to take on a new role, transforming Thomas’s work into performance art. The chicness of the mirror room emulates the spectacle that Miami Beach has become yet the beauty of the room may draw you in, but the intimacy, introspection, and self-examination accompanied by it implicate the viewer into Thomas’s practice.