At the Musée de l’Orangerie, feminist artist Mickalene Thomas plays with art history

Mickalene Thomas, a female artist who is black and gay, celebrates the beauty, desire and strength of African-American women. His works created especially for the l’Orangerie museum in Paris are a dialogue with the works of Monet.

At the Musée de l’Orangerie, he steps towards the visitor water lilies Monet’s gaze is challenged by three creatures who challenge him: Lunch on the Grass: Three Black Women with Monet by African-American Mickalene Thomas. Adorned with Afro hairstyles, seated amidst a cluster of flowers adorned with colorful prints reminiscent of the 1970s, they win. In this collage, they pose for a scandal Lunch on the grass A naked white woman and two clothed men and figures in front of Monet’s water garden at Giverny took pride of place. ” Collage is a language, a method of composition, that allows you to overlay images from different sources to tell a story. believes in the artist.


The Monet Revival

These very personal interpretations are the fruit of a long collaboration with the artistPrint, rising sun. “ In 2011, I did a three-month residency in Giverny, which left a deep impression on me. I understood how painting is done and most importantly, this sense of rebellion that excites artists. Impressionists were real subversives – added Mikalen Thomas with a smile, his eyes sparkling behind his round glasses. The female, black, and gay artist takes inspiration from the formal rebellion of her predecessors to emphasize beauty, eroticism, and aesthetics, fully embracing her identity. strange black.

“It offers a complex representation of femininity, desire and strength. »
Claire Bernardi, director of the Orangerie museum

So she poses naked, lying inside like an odalisque I like the Muse (2016), an installation of twelve superimposed screens in a garden-like space. this” collage the video mixes her self-portrait with images of women who have shaped ideals of beauty in art history – Leda and the swan butcher, Lying naked by Modigliani The Great Odalisque d’Ingres – and black figures like “ Hottentot Venus and singer Grace Jones.

Mickalene Thomas, Maya #7, 2015 © Mickalene Thomas

The images are accompanied by a soundtrack depicting the sexual violence and discrimination experienced by black American singer and activist Eartha Kitt. ” By revisiting and subverting well-known paintings, Mikalen Thomas offers a complex and meaningful depiction of femininity, desire and power that represents the breadth of her visual language. », says Claire Bernardi, director of the Musée de l’Orangerie.

The artist calls for a better reorientation of Western art history by replacing white characters with black women, especially lesbians. Hence the photo Courbet #3 (to sleep) (2011) poses with two naked black lovers to sleep By Courbet, surrounded by rich fabrics with African motifs. ” The sepia-toned print and period-moulded metal frame suggest multiple convergences: Courbet’s period of painting and the invention of photography, the era of slavery and the type of photographic portrait made possible by ethnographic vision. Kelly Jones, a professor of contemporary art at Columbia University, says so in her recent monograph on the artist.

Mickalene Thomas Reist 2017 © Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas, Reist, 2017 © Mickalene Thomas

A series of paintings decorated with rhinestones, The origin of the universe (2012) inspired by The origin of the world de Courbet, a collection of photographs Calder series (2013) and a Cubist painting inspired by Picasso (Portrait of Aaliyah2018) is among these debts that seek to restore the visibility of black women in art.

Black is beautiful

We have been out of the conversation for a long time. Until the 2019 exhibition “Black Model from Géricault to Matisse” at the Musée d’Orsay, I did not know, for example, that Matisse represented black women from Harlem in his engravings in the 1930s. The role of museums is important. : feel accepted by representing blacks in their collections “, – explains Mickalene Thomas, who discovered her vocation as an artist at the age of 30 after visiting the exhibition of African-American photographer Carrie Mae Weems, which shows a black family around a table (Kitchen table series, 1990). ” It was the first time I saw pictures of my life in modern art. As soon as I came face to face with Rothko, it resonated with me. That day I decided to go to art school to make my own impact “, she says. Exhibiting at the Orangerie seems like an incredible opportunity to her as a black American from the LGBTQIA+ community.” Back to the conversation says Mikalen Thomas, whose works are now in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Mickalene Thomas © Photography: Courtesy Luisa Opalesky

Mickalene Thomas © Photography: Courtesy Luisa Opalesky

Political act

His commitment shines in his actions as well as in his work. The artist, who created a portrait of Michelle Obama in 2008, has created a series of works that explore the central role of African-American women in the civil rights struggle from the 1960s to the Black Lives Matter movement. Consisting of ink-reworked screen-printed images, resist Brings together photojournalism from historical and contemporary protests highlighting powerful activists like Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Stacey Abrams. “EBeing an artist is a political activity. It’s not necessarily an act of rebellion, it’s always radical. In the spotlight, you are exposed to criticism, you work to tell a story, to create a specific message through art. »

Mickalene Thomas Portrait of Aaliyah 2018 © Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas, Portrait of Aaliyah, 2018 © Mickalene Thomas

At 51, the artist, whose mentors are African-American artists Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden, is in turn the director of a mentoring program for young emerging artists (Pratt Forward) and the co-founder of Two Black Women. his wife, Racquel Chevremont, curator and collector, was represented in many of his works. ” By organizing exhibitions to give more visibility to artists of color and queer artists, we want to be part of a larger dialogue that takes contemporary art beyond just the feminist movement. they say.


“Michelen Thomas: With Monet”
Orangerie Museum, Tuileries Garden, Place de la Concorde, 75001 Paris
From October 13 to February 6

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