Mickalene Thomas - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | Phillips

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  • "I’ve always been interested in masking, layering, dressing up and beautifying yourself and what that meant to black women. I’ve always wanted to make things that I haven’t seen before."
    —Mickalene Thomas

    Depicting a fashionable, self-assured woman with a gaze redolent of Édouard Manet’s Olympia, Mickalene Thomas’ Portrait of Jessica exemplifies the artist’s vision of female beauty, sexuality, and power. At once subject and object, real and fictive, the woman is bedazzled from head to toe, exuding a brilliant shine and unremitting glamor from her adorned accessories to her own makeup and shadow. Executed in 2011, the present work features Thomas’ signature use of rhinestones as a symbol of both femininity and artifice, inviting viewers to examine her beauty while reflecting on beauty’s constructed nature.


    Barkley Hendricks, Sweet Thang (Lynn Jenkins), 1975-1976. Museum of Modern Art, New York

    "I am always looking back at history and thinking about the images that have come before me and what they meant and how I can use them in my own way."
    —Mickalene Thomas

    Drawing inspiration from canonical artists including Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Manet to pop culture icons of the 1970s, Thomas is best known for her vast body of portraits that deconstructs metanarratives of beauty, gender, and race. Reconstructing her figures in rhinestone-emblazoned paintings, Thomas models her Black female figures in classical poses against contemporary, collaged settings recalling the work of Romare Bearden to create at once multi-textured works and symbolically multi-layered works. The artist frequently depicts her close friends, lovers, and family members, who are as much real figures as they are muses in her art. “All of my muses,” Thomas expressed, “possess a profound sense of inner confidence and individuality. They are all in tune with their own audacity and beauty in such unique ways. They are unafraid to exude boldness and vulnerability at the same time, and most importantly, they are real.”i


    [left] Gustav Klimt, Judith with the Head of Holofernes, 1901. Oesterreichische Galerie im Belvedere, Vienna, Image: Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY [right] Pam Grier on the cover of Jet Magazine, August 9, 1973

    Endowing her figures with an undeniable femininity by covering them in rhinestones, Thomas infuses her paintings with material and symbolic layers of meaning that address the notions of beauty and perception. Reminiscent of Byzantine mosaics and Gustav Klimt’s decorative aesthetic, the glimmering collage elements in the present work create a striking contrast to the sensually painted background. The shimmering diamantes not only embellish the furniture and the figure, but in some degrees are the figure—they are the contours of her skin and make up her voluptuous hair, overpainted with flaunting white acrylic pigment. By excessively layering her figures in this manner, “I’m also playing with artifice, what’s real and not real, and how we perceive things,” the artist explained.ii While Thomas focuses on the Black experience, her ultimate message conveys this notion on the universal level. “These elements are not necessarily about the black experience; it’s about the idea of covering up, of dress up and make up—of amplifying how we see ourselves. It’s beyond a black esthetic.”iii



    i Mickalene Thomas, quoted in Katie Booth, “In Mickalene Thomas’s Awe-Inspiring Portraits, a Meaningful Reflection of Black Women in Art,” The New York Times, January 29, 2016.
    ii Mickalene Thomas, quoted in Carol Kino, “A Confidence Highlighted in Rhinestones,” The New York Times, April 7, 2009, online
    iii Mickalene Thomas, quoted in “From the Archives: Mickalene Thomas on Why Her Work Goes ‘Beyond the Black Aesthetic,” in 2011,” ARTnews, September 14, 2018, online

    • Provenance

      Lehmann Maupin, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Mickalene Thomas

      American • 1971

      Glamour and feminism need not be foes, as evinced by the wonderful work of Mickalene Thomas. The artist examines these qualities through the lens of the African-American female experience. Whether with her rhinestone-inflected, '70s-glam-inspired portraits of black beauty and power or her photographic installations of her mother's living room, Thomas personalizes while aestheticizing a visual conversation about race. By tackling classical art historical themes, she writes African-American aesthetics into traditional conventions.

      Blockbuster retrospectives at the Brooklyn Museum and ICA Boston thrust Thomas into contemporary art's mainstage. Her platform extends her creative pursuits into fashion, interiors and DJ'ing. Thomas' market has also grown at a steady pace with auction prices increasing each year.

      View More Works


Portrait of Jessica

signed, titled and dated "Portrait of Jessica, 2011 M. Thomas" on the reverse
rhinestones, acrylic and enamel on panel
60 x 48 in. (152.4 x 121.9 cm)
Executed in 2011.

Full Cataloguing

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $1,542,500

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021