Lots of Love for Mickalene Thomas

The artist celebrates her first international touring exhibition at The Broad

Words by ELIZABETH VARNELL

 

Tasha Smith, Mickalene Thomas, Law Roach. PHOTO: Courtesy of BFA.com.

 

As guests arrived for the evening opening of Mickalene Thomas: All About Love presented by Dior on Thursday, May 23, at The Broad in Los Angeles, they stepped from Grand Avenue onto Mount Vernon Street in Camden, New Jersey, the neighborhood where Thomas grew up. For her touring exhibition’s first stateside stop, the artist included spaces evoking her mother’s house. Joanne Heyler, the museum’s founding director and president, called the wide-ranging show, comprising more than 90 works created over the past 20 years, “unlike anything we’ve presented.”

In addition to the exhibition’s tableau living rooms, Thomas — who earned her M.F.A. at Yale and lives in Brooklyn — compiled stacks of books stashed throughout with titles by Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, Angela Davis, Roxane Gay, and bell hooks, who is referenced in the show’s title. On hand to greet Thomas and get a first look at her mixed-media rhinestone-embellished paintings and the debut of her first neon work were Quinta Brunson, Law Roach, Yara Shahidi, Cat Cora, Nia Sioux, Aurora James, Aja Monet, Angela Manuel-Davis, Legendary Damon, Dr. Holly Hatcher-Frazier, Melina Matsoukas, Courtney Mays, Tony Okungbowa, Marquise Miller, Marcellas Reynolds, and Shaun Ross.

 

PHOTO: Courtesy of BFA.com.

 

Also at the opening were Simone Leigh, whose traveling survey is currently split between LACMA and the California African American Museum, and Lauren Halsey, who is creating a sculpture park in partnership with nonprofit Los Angeles Nomadic Division that is slated to open next spring in South Los Angeles. “I feel part of a movement,” Thomas said, noting the current work of her fellow artists in town. “It’s very empowering that three Black women are leading this.” Joining them were Catherine Opie, Shaun Caley Regen, Derrick Adams, Maria Arena Bell, Kenturah Davis, Jeffrey Deitch, Casey Fremont, April Bey, Autumn Breon, Elliott Hundley, Shantell Martin, V. Joy Simmons, Jasmine Wahi, Shinique Smith, and Monetta White while DJ Linafornia spun.

“It’s been a journey and I have a lot of work, and this is only a fraction of it. You’re only seeing glimpses of series, a window, which is still not enough, but it’s something, a beginning,” said Thomas of the new show, which was co-organized by the Hayward Gallery, London, and The Broad, in partnership with Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation. In addition to re-creations of Thomas’ mother Sandra Bush’s house, complete with portraits by the artist, Bush’s collection of tapes and records were on display along with a pair of bronzed Crocs. “I cast the last pair of shoes she bought just like you cast the first pair of your kid’s shoes,” she said, pointing out the tribute to her mother, a former fashion model and frequent muse, on display in the show’s first room. Thomas also brought another element of her former neighborhood along for the opening, her cousin Indigo Pascall’s youth step team, Getting Better Every Day, from Camden. “For many of them, it was their first time on a plane,” said Thomas. “That’s life-changing. That’s what I want to do: transform lives.”

 

Quinta Brunson, Yara Shahidi, Mickalene Thomas, Zanele Muholi. PHOTO: Courtesy of GETTY IMAGES.

 

David Sanders, Angela Davis, Tony Okungbowa. PHOTO: Courtesy of BFA.com.

 

DJ Linafornia. PHOTO: Courtesy of BFA.com.

 

LEFT: Legendary Damon. PHOTO: Courtesy of BFA.com. RIGHT: Shaun Ross. PHOTO: Courtesy of GETTY IMAGES.

 

Lauren Halsey, Mickalene Thomas. PHOTO: Courtesy of BFA.com.

 

Quinta Brunson. PHOTO: Courtesy of BFA.com.

 

Joanne Heyler, Edythe Broad, Bruce Karatz. PHOTO: Courtesy of BFA.com.

 

Aurora James. PHOTO: Courtesy of GETTY IMAGES.

 

Cat Cora. PHOTO: Courtesy of GETTY IMAGES.

 

Feature image: PHOTO: Courtesy of BFA.com.

 

June 3, 2023

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