Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle - Lévy Gorvy
  • Installation view of the exhibition Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle at Lévy Gorvy New York

    Installation view, Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Lévy Gorvy New York 2021. Photo: Tom Powel

  • Installation view of the exhibition Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle at Lévy Gorvy New York

    Installation view, Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Lévy Gorvy New York 2021. Photo: Tom Powel

  • Installation view of the exhibition Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle at Lévy Gorvy New York

    Installation view, Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Lévy Gorvy New York 2021. Photo: Tom Powel

  • Installation view of the exhibition Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle at Lévy Gorvy New York

    Installation view, Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Lévy Gorvy New York 2021. Photo: Tom Powel

  • Installation view of the exhibition Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle at Lévy Gorvy New York

    Installation view, Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Lévy Gorvy New York 2021. Photo: Tom Powel

  • Installation view of the exhibition Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle at Lévy Gorvy New York

    Installation view, Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Lévy Gorvy New York 2021. Photo: Tom Powel

  • Installation view of the exhibition Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle at Lévy Gorvy New York

    Installation view, Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Lévy Gorvy New York 2021. Photo: Tom Powel

Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure PrincipleExhibitions

New York
September 9 - November 13, 2021

#MickaleneThomas

Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle

On September 9, Lévy Gorvy will open Mickalene Thomas’ Beyond the Pleasure Principle in New York, the first chapter of a multipart exhibition that will unfold across four international cities during fall 2021 to present interconnected bodies of new work, ranging from painting and collage to installation and video. Over the past 20 years, Thomas has cultivated a distinctive vocabulary of Black queer aesthetics and thought, both within her multidisciplinary practice and through her often collaborative approach to producing and exhibiting her work. With the sequential premieres of Beyond the Pleasure Principle in the gallery’s locations in New York, London, Paris, and Hong Kong, Thomas sets out to formally, spatially, and philosophically draw attention to the central study of her art: the power and desirability of Black women, and their presence, imprint, and legacy in global avant-garde visual culture.

Alluding to a 1987 hit song by Janet Jackson and a 1920 landmark essay by Sigmund Freud, the title Beyond the Pleasure Principle signals Thomas’ personal, artistic, and political intentions while also acknowledging the intersection of influences and techniques that underlie her work.

In New York, the inaugural chapter of the exhibition will debut ten large-scale paintings composed of silkscreen, oil and acrylic paint, and rhinestone application, and featuring images of archival photos of Black women sourced from vintage Jet pinup calendars. Here, departing from the artist’s well-known practice of choosing friends, family, and lovers as models, Thomas widens her consideration of the representation of Black women’s bodies in art, media, and politics to include existing images from the 1970s. By overlaying these vintage images with abstract and geometric gestures and interventions—the exaggeration of archetypal emblems of beauty such as lips, eyes, and hair—Thomas invites us to reflect on the complex forces that shape our understanding of beauty, desire, identity, and power. Through her use of Jet pinup models, Thomas reclaims, in imagery and spirit, the power and agency of these anonymous women, transforming them from objects of desire to authors of their own narratives.

As a prominent chronicler and voice of African-American politics and daily life in the postwar era, Jet magazine (published by the Johnson Publishing Company form 1951–2016) challenged common perceptions within American society through its unflinching coverage of the violent realities of white supremacy as well as its reporting on the everyday interests of African Americans, which included aspirational features that uplifted Black celebrities, artists, and intellectuals. The magazine routinely featured “Beauties of the Week” in an effort to defy Eurocentric beauty standards and promote the enterprises of young Black women. For Thomas—whose own work has long depicted the beauty and power of Black women in order to subvert the material and cultural oppression and marginalization to which they have been subjected—engaging in a cultural touchstone like Jet underscores her determined commitment to visibility, and historical and contemporary celebrations of Blackness, femininity, and queerness.

In the works debuting in New York, Thomas engages the formal language of the avant-garde of the late 19th and 20th centuries—which emphasized freedom, fluidity, experimentation, and the dismantling of hierarchies—within the political paradigm of Black liberation, itself a vanguard of American thought and culture.

In American modernity, the truth of this influence is evidenced by Black life and art that essentially reshaped the national cultural landscape, from the Reconstruction period and the Great Migration, to the Harlem Renaissance and New Negro movements, and almost every American genre of music from Blues and Jazz to Rock n’ Roll and Hip Hop. Yet, despite their influence, the survival of Black people in a society where white is still seen as default is contingent on adapting, shifting, and molding the Black self – culturally, aesthetically, and otherwise – to fit within Eurocentric ontologies. This historical discard of Blackness from positions of visibility and societal advancement, and the transference of major cultural advancements rooted in Black diaspora arts, culture, and political movements to solely white protagonists, has long obscured the true extent to which their influence shaped modern American culture.

Through postmodernist and postcolonial discourses, academics and artists, like Thomas, have critically and formally represented the hybrid reality long obscured by a monolithic thinking of modernism as a white, male reinterpretation of the world, which merely appropriated so-called primitive art as a formal device. American historian Dorothy Ross offers a framework for understanding the origins of modernism outside of a white cultural expression, asking whether cognitive modernity, which challenged Enlightenment-ordering of the world, particularly the subjugation of Black people, brought about aesthetic modernity; or whether modernity in the arts—traced to African, Indigenous, and Black art traditions—catalyzed a new cultural mentality that bore modern thinking. Whichever came first, it is clear that modernity was not a top down reordering of the world, but rather an influence that flowed both ways.

It is in this critical intellectual space that Thomas engages in the formal traditions of modernism, not as an outsider but as the rightful heir to modernity’s cognitive and aesthetic characteristics. Her longstanding engagement with collage, and the fracturing of the picture plane, she attributes to Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Faith Ringgold, as well as Picasso and Henri Matisse, a reflection of the inherent fluidity of the form as an expression of modern ideology, and the diverse influences which inform it. In choosing to anchor her own work within this spectrum, Thomas uses collage to build upon the tradition of the form, preserving and elaborating on the medium as a mechanism for iconoclastic sensibility and social protest.

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Selected Works

  • Mickalene Thomas's artwork titled "September 1977"

    MICKALENE THOMAS
    September 1977
    2021
    Rhinestones, glitter, and acrylic on canvas mounted on wood panel with mahogany frame
    110⅛ x 92³⁄₁₆ inches (279.7 x 234.2 cm)

    Inquire
  • Mickalene Thomas's artwork titled "June 1977"

    MICKALENE THOMAS
    June 1977
    2021
    Rhinestones, acrylic, and oil on canvas mounted on wood panel with mahogany frame
    86⅛ x 72⅛ inches (218.8 x 183.2 cm)

    Inquire

Selected Press

Harper's Bazaar Germany | Feine Fur alle Mit zuganglicher Kunst avancierte Mickalene Thomas zum Star. Fur Bazaar gestaltete die Vielgefragte ein Cover

September 20, 2021

Für Mickalene Thomas geht es in diesem Herbst rund. In der Mitte ihres Lebens befindet sich die Künstlerin …

The New York Times | A New Level of Ambition in Art by 3 Women

September 16, 2021

Mickalene Thomas’s show at Lévy Gorvy is her first solo appearance in New York in seven years, so …

Essence | 18 Must-See Exhibitions To Visit This Fall

September 13, 2021

Thomas affords agency to those once reduced to “objects of desire” (including Jet pinup models), …

Smithsonian Magazine | Mickalene Thomas’ Dazzling Collages Reclaim Black Women’s Bodies

September 7, 2021

Mickalene Thomas, a contemporary African American artist known for her stunning collages, is attempting …

Hyperallergic | Your Concise Guide to Armory Week 2021

September 5, 2021

New York is the first stop on this traveling exhibition of multimedia works by Mickalene Thomas.

Air Mail | Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle

September 3, 2021

The exhibition will show in four chapters in Lévy Gorvy’s four galleries. The openings are staggered, …

The Brooklyn Rail | Mickalene Thomas with Amber Jamilla Musser

September 3, 2021

Beginning September 9 in New York City, Lévy Gorvy will present Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure …

Ocula | The Armory Show: New York Exhibitions to See

September 2, 2021

Mickalene Thomas combines art history and popular culture to create contemporary images of female beauty, …

Essence | The Black Body Electric

September 1, 2021

Mickalene uses a multitude of mediums show-casing the strength and vulnerability of Black women through …

Interview | Mickalene Thomas by Whoopi Goldberg

September 1, 2021

This fall, Mickalene Thomas is taking over the world. The artist is kicking off her four-city Lévy Gorvy …

The Canvas | Just Getting Started: Mickalene Thomas

September 1, 2021

Mickalene Thomas is taking over the world this autumn, and for her legion of fans, it can't come soon …

Document Journal | Mickalene Thomas remixes tropes from art history to reveal everyday Black women as icons

August 30, 2021

This fall, Mickalene Thomas will open Beyond the Pleasure Principle, an international exhibition across …

Frieze | Signs of Resistance in a New Painting by Mickalene Thomas

August 25, 2021

Mickalene Thomas does not have to prove that the women she depicts are beautiful, nor does her work give …

Vogue | In Four New Exhibitions This Fall, Mickalene Thomas Explores the Beauty of the Female Form

August 24, 2021

The four locations where Mickalene Thomas will show this fall are all part of the Lévy Gorvy gallery …

Time Out | Artist Mickalene Thomas mines vintage Jet Magazines for new show

August 19, 2021

The celebrated artist Mickalene Thomas, who frequently mines the cultural significance and contributions …

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