Origin of the UniverseExhibition |
A bejeweled topography of female power.
Gazing down on the lovable hodge-podge that makes up the Brooklyn Museum's lower floors has sat, since last September, a world of coherent glamor by Brooklyn-based artist Mickalene Thomas — vast, overwhelming topographies of the female form and experience, with no jewel left unplaced. Real, three-dimensional jewels, by the way. Rhinestones are one of the staples of the Thomas palette and are arranged in no unintentional way among paintings of the heroines of Thomas' personal history.
In Origin of the Universe (a take off of Gustave Courbet's L'Origine du monde for the snoozers of Art History 101), Thomas explores motifs of African-American femininity, particularly that of the 1970's, through portraits, collages, installations, and a short film depicting an adorned, but fragile Mama Bush (Thomas’ mother). The experience comes across not as disjointed forays into distinct media territories, but rather as a vertical look at Thomas' multi-leveled perspective, as if her brain were a house and the exhibition were a dollhouse replica, cut in half for the sake of better access.
The images Thomas conjures through her collage-like paintings and documentary vignette are of women with power, if not over their circumstances, then at least over their bodies — faces full of knowing sexuality and personality. Thomas is irreverent in her awareness of the iconicness of her characters, both at the height of their beauty and throughout its unsettling dissipation. In this regard, her mother is center stage. The installations of domestic interiors that were built specifically for this showing provide exactly the physical context one might expect would surround these individuals. That the exhibit never toys with anachronism may be its only deficiency.
Also available are an accompanying iTunes playlist and audio commentary by Thomas.
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