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  • "The women I work with are powerhouses: their prowess is undeniable, and I only hope to bring forth their true selves. I want the world to see these various black women as strong, grounded, confident, and sexy."
    — Mickalene Thomas

    Movie poster for Foxy Brown, 1974.
    Movie poster for Foxy Brown, 1974. Ronald Grant / AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES [AIP] / Alamy Stock Photo

    An iconic image by Mickalene Thomas, I’ve Been Good to Me, 2013 is one of the most refined examples of the artist’s work to arrive at auction. Featuring Thomas’s signature collaged layers of acrylic paint and rhinestones, the work depicts a seated woman, exuding an air of confidence and evocative of Pam Grier, wearing extravagant 1970s dress surrounded by patterned cushions and tapestries.

     

    Featuring a self-assured gaze redolent of those of Édouard Manet’s Olympia, 1863, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, this picture explores identity, female sexuality, and the politics of the “gaze”—themes that can be traced throughout Thomas’s oeuvre. The image so appealed to the artist that she revisited it in a print run two years later.

     

    Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863-1965.
    Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Photo credit: Scala / Art Resource, NY

    The Story of Qusuquzah

     

    The sitter of I’ve Been Good to Me is transgender model Qusuquzah, identifiable by her dress, hairstyle, and jewelry, which has been used in other depictions of her by Thomas such as Qusuquzah Lounging with Pink + Black Flower and Portrait of Qusuquzah #7, both from 2016. One of Thomas’s most frequent sitters, Qusuquzah was introduced to Thomas through a friend, and many of the artist’s representations of her are held in museum collections around the world.

    "The women I choose already exude that power; they have a magnetic, fierce energy and that is the attraction."
    — Mickalene Thomas
    Thomas’s paintings and photographs are far from anonymous: she typically depicts her friends, lovers, and family members—often identifying them by name—and first began exploring her distinctive visual language by photographing her mother while she was an MFA student at Yale University. “Just like my first muse, my mother, all of my muses possess a profound sense of inner confidence and individuality,” Thomas expressed. “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

     

  • Qusuquzah as Muse

  • The Process

    Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Man smoking), 1990. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Artwork © 2020 Carrie Mae Weems
    Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Man smoking), 1990. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Artwork © 2020 Carrie Mae Weems

    Influenced by Carrie Mae Weems’s seminal Kitchen Table Series, Thomas first photographs her subjects in her Brooklyn studio, where she constructs installations evocative of domestic interiors replete with furniture and objects the artist herself alters using vibrant colors and patterns. Her sitters’ poses take equal inspiration from the radical confidence of both Manet’s female figures and those of Black women represented in 1970s popular culture, such as Jet magazine and Blaxploitation films—two of Thomas’s greatest influences.

     

    After the shoot, she then translates the image into a painting using unconventional materials— such as rhinestones in the case of I’ve Been Good to Me. This distinctive aspect of Thomas’s visual languages dates back to her time in art school, when she couldn’t always afford oil or acrylic paints and took the opportunity to turn to other, more untraditional media. “I purchased my art supplies form craft stores,” Thomas elucidated. “The materials,” such as felt, glitter, and yarn, “were cheaper, and they also allowed me to experiment and play.”ii

     

    Detail of the present lot.

    This mixture of paint and objects contributes to a three-dimensional collage effect that on one hand is reminiscent of the work of Henri Mattise and Romare Bearden; on the other, it seems to allude to the democratic appeal of 70s kitsch. “Everyone had wood paneling in their house, regardless of race, and everyone loves rhinestones,” Thomas explained. “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

     

    Property from the Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr.

     

    The present work arrives at auction from the collection of pioneering Virginia-based philanthropists Pamela and William Royall, prominent collectors of 20th century and contemporary art in the American South. The collection reflects their broad interests, from well-known artists from the 20th century to emerging and established Black artists. Committed arts patrons and forces of change in Richmond, the Royalls spearhead the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’s recent acquisition of Kehinde Wiley’s sculpture Rumors of War as board members of the institution and were instrumental to the museum’s expansion of the diversity of its collection. Believing in a vision of greater inclusivity for Richmond, the Royalls established a non-profit art gallery for the collection, Try-me, which was open without charge to the public, which fostered a space for local artists and education. 

     

    Cut from the Archives

     

     

    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, iii Mickalene Thomas, quoted in Carol Kino, “A Confidence Highlighted in Rhinestones,” The New York Times, April 7, 2009, online.

    • Provenance

      Lehmann Maupin, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owners in 2013

    • Artist Biography

      Mickalene Thomas

      American • 1971

      Influenced by Lacanian psychology as much as by the glam aesthetics of 1970s Blaxploitation films, artist Mickalene Thomas subverts conventional canonical formats to unravel notions of race, gender, and sexuality. Thomas’s complex works incorporate a wide range of media including rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel to create richly layered collage-like compositions that explore the inner natures of her sitters against the contradictions and misconceptions of identity. She produces portraits of African American women using vocabularies of the art historical canon and contemporary celebrity photography to render her subjects as powerful agents of their identities. Often depicting her sitters, whom the artist frequently refers to as “muses,” in the poses of the odalisques of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Édouard Manet, Thomas subverts traditional forms of representation and presents a complex and empathetic vision of the myriad experiences of Black woman in contemporary America. Her sitters return the viewer’s gaze, supercharging their potent presences.

      Thomas came to making art under precipitous circumstances; inspired by a retrospective of the work of Carrie Mae Weems while she was studying law in Portland, Oregon, Thomas has since devoted herself to exploring identity in visual terms. Her work incorporates a huge variety of influences, from Édouard Manet and Henri Matisse to Weems and Kehinde Wiley, and has been the subject of major retrospectives at the Brooklyn Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.

      View More Works

Property from the Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr.

35

I've Been Good To Me

signed, titled and dated "I've Been Good To Me, 2013 M. Thomas" on the reverse
rhinestones, acrylic, enamel, silkscreen and oil on panel
108 x 84 in. (274.3 x 213.4 cm)
Executed in 2013.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $901,200

Contact Specialist

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

[email protected] 


 

20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 7 December 2020