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MUSE: Mickalene Thomas Photographs and tête á tête

Mickalene Thomas strategically presented her amazing work to an almost all white press gathering (one Asian came from Microsoft). MUSE: Mickalene Thomas Photographs and tête á tête accompanied by a publication of the same name by the prestigious Aperture Press, features large portraits, small collages, smaller Polaroids, and videos along with the work of other artists important to the artist. Thomas spoke of the importance of community. I was impressed by the artist’s humility, her respect for other artists, and her understated presentation, in spite of her superstar status.

At the entrance to the exhibition, the artist re-created her living room/studio including an old TV monitor playing a video about her mother at the center. Indeed, her mother, who died shortly after the video was completed, animated the exhibition as a whole. Thomas carefully outlined her relationship with her mother as well as the making of the video. We have come a long way from Whistler’s somber Mother!

Both she and her mother were fashion models, sometimes in partnership. Certainly, the artist’s sense of presentation, display, color, pattern and sheer style echoes that perspective. However, Thomas takes it much further with subtle layers of meanings and references in every work.

In the “living room” and in the gallery itself we were surrounded by Thomas’s bold, frontal head and shoulder portraits of her beautiful black friends, as well as those of friends and lovers lounging luxuriantly on sofas. But, in the press preview, she made nary a reference to sex, sexuality, gender or even blackness. We learned about her techniques, her heroes, her friends. The small scale of the Polaroids and collages, the studies for larger works, are the foundation for the huge photo-paintings we saw recently at the Seattle Art Museum, but there are no shiny sequins here.