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Thomas, Mickalenefree

American, 21st century, female.

Born 1971, in Camden (New Jersey), United States.

Painter, photographer, printmaker. identity art Mixed media, video, installation.

Mickalene Thomas is an African American artist who graduated from the Pratt Institute, with a bachelor of fine arts degree in 2000, and from the Yale University School of Art, earning a master of fine arts degree in painting in 2002. She then completed a residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Inspired by the work of Carrie Mae Weems, Thomas explores the familiarity of the black matriarch. Thomas’ subjects typically include pop culture, celebrities, female politicians, and mothers, and her work addresses the subjects of power, identity, and media representations.

The Brooklyn-based artist’s paintings are usually large-scale acrylic-and-enamel works elaborately adorned with sequins and rhinestones. Fusing art historical context with the visual language of 1970s ‘blaxploitation’, she presents her female subjects in complex visual fields to parallel the duplicitous nature of black female identity, beauty, and sexuality. Making reference to Edouard Manet, Thomas produced an Odalisque series (2007) that re-imagines the relationship between the male gaze and the muse through ‘an updated perspective of female inter-subjectivity and same-sex desire’. Thomas also employs complex and vibrant patterns to obscure the boundaries between figure and ground in backgrounds reminiscent of Henri Matisse and Romare Bearden.

By repurposing art- historical portraiture, a genre traditionally dominated by white male artists, Thomas’ work is a celebratory reclamation of black identity and empowerment. Her compositions often feature domestic interiors and are centrally anchored by a powerful female nude with an unflinching, provocative outward gaze.

Thomas’ first solo museum exhibition, Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe, debuted in 2012 at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Later in the same year, she exhibited her first East Coast solo show at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.

Group Exhibitions

2004, It’s about Memory, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL

2005, Greater New York 2005, MoMA PS1, Long Island City, NY

2008, 30 Americans, Rubell Family Collection, Miami, FL

2010, ART in Embassies Exhibition, United States Mission to the United Nations, New York, NY

2010, Collected: Reflections on the Permanent Collection, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY

2014, 30 Americans, Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, LA

Solo Exhibitions

2006, Something about You . . ., Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL

2008, What’s Love Got to Do with It?, Bloom Projects, Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, CA

2011, Mickalene Thomas—Mama Bush: One of a Kind Two, Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan

2012, Mickalene Thomas, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA

2012, Origin of the Universe, Santa Monica Museum of Art, CA; Brooklyn Museum, NY

2014, Femme au divan I, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris, France

2014, Mickalene Thomas: Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY

Museum and Gallery Holdings

Boston (MFA)

Chicago (AI)

Miami, FL (Rubell Family Collection)

New Haven, CT (Yale University AG)

New York (Guggenheim Mus.)

New York (MoMA)

Philadelphia (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts)

Seattle (AM)

Washington, DC (National Portrait Gal.)

Washington, DC (Smithsonian American AM)

Auction Records

New York, 23 Sept 2014: Qusuquzah, Une Tres Belle Negresse 3 (2012, rhinestone, acrylic, and oil on panel, 96 × 80 ins/243.8 × 203.2 cm) USD 106,250 (premium)

New York, 5 March 2015: When Ends Meet #1 (2007, rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on panel, 20 × 24 ins/50.8 × 61 cm) USD 106,250 (premium)

New York, 15 May 2015: A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y (2009, rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on panel, 24 × 20 ins/61 × 50.8 cm) USD 75,000 (premium)

New York, 12 Nov 2015: COME WITH ME, NOW I NEED YOU (2007, acrylic, enamel, rhinestones on panel, 72 × 60 ins/182.9 × 152.4 cm) USD 175,000 (premium)


  • Hobbs, Robert Carleton/Sirmans, Franklin/Wallace, Michele: 30 Americans, Rubell, Miami (FL), 2008.
  • Holzwarth, Hans Werner (ed.): Art Now, Vol. 3: A Cutting-Edge Selection of Today’s Most Exciting Artists, Taschen, London, 2008.
  • Holzwarth, Hans Werner (ed.): 100 Contemporary Artists, Taschen, London, 2009.
  • Haynes, Lauren, and others: The Bearden Project, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, 2012.
  • Melandir, Lisa (ed.): Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe, Santa Monica Museum of Art (CA), 2012.
  • Thomas, Mickalene/Blessing, Jennifer/Martin, Lesley A.: Muse, Aperture, New York, 2015.