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.
Press release courtesy Lévy Gorvy.