Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Mickalene Thomas
B. 1971
signed, titled, dated 2013 and variously inscribed on the reverse of each panel
rhinestones, acrylic, oil and enamel on wood panel, in two parts 
overall: 243.8 by 304.8 cm. 96 by 120 in.
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Lehman Maupin Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013


London, Saatchi Gallery, Post Pop: East Meets West, November 2014 - March 2015, p. 228-29, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Mickalene Thomas presents a regal portrait of supermodel Naomi Campbell in this present work. Reclined on a sofa, Campbell’s serpentine body snakes down the cushion, further complicating the cacophony of textures scattered around the picture plane. Her pose recalls several art-historical referents including Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’ Grand Odalisque (1814) with a marked difference: Thomas presents her model, a highly successful African-American woman, as fully clothed. In doing so, Thomas subverts a centuries-long tradition of male artists objectifying the female body. Rather than seduce like Ingres’ odalisque, the purpose of Campbell’s powerful direct gaze allows the sitter to reclaim her agency from the male gaze and redefine herself instead by her own standards of femininity rather than society’s preconceived notions of it.

Set in a domestic setting decorated to reflect the stylistic trends of the 1970s, Thomas infuses Naomi Looking Forward with memories of the wood-panelled living room of her childhood. She is reinventing experiences that exist only in memory, incorporating parts of her identity that inspire her into her work including: African textiles, African photography, and Yoruban art alongside canonical European art history. As a result, Thomas’ artistic output is deeply personal and tied to her own experiences as an African American woman. In this way, her work can be considered alongside contemporaries Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Wangechi Mutu whose collaged representations of the black female body similarly draw on their own experiences.

Through her deep understanding of art history, Thomas explores gender and race in her richly coloured and textured compositions. As stated by art critic Roberta Smith, Thomas’ portraits and reclining odalisques cover many bases: "aesthetic, political, art-historical and pop-cultural. Their sheer complexity makes them seem close to self-sufficient, secure in their ability to reach most viewers on one wavelength or another. They set the eye and brain whirring, parsing subversive meanings and quotations, skipping among mediums and savoring the contrasting surface textures, which include slatherings and smooth, enamel-like finishes and thin, brushy strokes...Above all, these works convey a pride of person that gives any viewer - not only women - an occasion to rise to" (Roberta Smith, ‘Loud, Proud and Painted’, The New York Times, September 2012, online).

Contemporary Art Day Auction