Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971, M.F.A. 2002) has gained an international reputation for her dazzling paintings and photographs of Black women posed in lushly decorated interiors, as well as for her similarly styled, immersive installations. In Mickalene Thomas / Portrait of an Unlikely Space, the artist designs an entirely new multigallery installation, imagining domestic surroundings reminiscent of a moment in U.S. history that has never before been so explicitly represented in her work: the pre-Emancipation era. Coorganized by Thomas, the exhibition features a selection of early American portraits of Black women, men, and children—from miniatures and daguerreotypes to silhouettes on paper and engravings in books—hanging on walls, standing within cases, and resting atop furniture. Alongside these small-scale objects, a group of artworks by Thomas and other contemporary artists in a wide array of media are also situated within her signature homelike environment, which is adorned with period-specific textile patterns and other decorative elements. The exhibition’s living-room design elicits reflection on not only the settings in which such 18th- and 19th-century portraits would originally have been encountered but also the intimate subject matter explored in the contemporary works on view. With her unique, multifaceted approach, Thomas constructs an evocative space that is meant to engender a sense of community—for the individuals depicted in the historical objects, the artists whose work is represented in the show, and the visitors engaging with both the past and the present.
Exhibition and publication made possible by Clifford Ross, B.A. 1974; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the Terra Foundation for American Art; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Mary Cushing Fosburgh and James Whitney Fosburgh, B.A. 1933, M.A. 1935, Publication Fund; the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund; and the Joann and Gifford Phillips, Class of 1942, Fund. Organized by Keely Orgeman, the Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Mickalene Thomas.