On Tuesday night, collectors and artists gathered in Tribeca for a gala staged by New York’s Rema Hort Mann Foundation — a philanthropic organization dedicated to funding support for families of cancer patients that has forged deep roots in the city’s cultural sector as a longtime backer of emerging artists.
Artist Mickalene Thomas took to the gala podium to accept the foundation’s Art and Social Justice Award. She is counted among past recipients for the foundation’s emerging artist grants,alongside lauded figures like Kehinde Wiley and Sara Sze. Her presenter, Julie Crooks, a curator at the Gallery of Ontario, heralded Thomas as a main promoter for artists of color.
“I was a real cross-roads in my own career,” Thomas told the packed room, speaking of the nascent period in which she accepted the grant back in 2007. She described the grant’s recognition as outweighing the capital support she received.
“What we forget with what these types of awards do for artists early in their career, it really validates them,” she said. “It was about a moment of saying, we see you.”
Thomas recalled that the funding propelled her career to a new level. At the time, it facilitated a new body of work from which she produced the painting Baby I’m ready now (2007), a monumental canvas featuring a portrait of the artist’s friend Aisha Bell posed on a couch and exuding self-assuredness. Presented first in a co-exhibition with Shinique Smith that year, the work would later end up in the collection of Don and Mera Rubell. Eventually it would go on to be shown in the 2016 traveling showcase of their art holdings 30 Americans that brought Thomas to new heights.
“You can see those connections. Without the award, no one would have seen Baby I’m ready now,” Thomas said.