Mickalene Thomas - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 17, 2021 | Phillips

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    "All of my muses 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."
    — Mickalene Thomas


    Executed in 2011, Mickalene Thomas’ Portrait of Qusuquzah #5 is a stunning example of the artist’s acclaimed practice. Drawing inspiration from 19th century French painting to 1970s pop culture and Blaxpoitation films, Thomas’ multi-media collage paintings address contemporary notions of beauty, sexuality, femininity, and power through the Black female experience. Showcasing her signature collaged layers of acrylic paint and rhinestones, the present work belongs to the artist’s well-known series of portraits on the transgender model Qusuquzah. Here, Thomas renders the figure up close, directing viewers to meet the subject’s gaze—a leitmotif in her oeuvre—that at once exudes boldness and a tender reflection of her humanity.



    Cover of Jet magazine, issue no. 300, December 1960

    Cover of Jet magazine, issue no. 300, December 1960


    For Thomas, her subjects are not models—they are muses. “‘Muse’ is a way of celebrating all of these women and what they have to give in these images," she explained. "For me, it was very much the personal relationship, and also the historical relationship that I have with the women and the world."i Introduced to Thomas through a friend, Qusuquzah has become one of the artist’s most frequent sitters, with many of the artist’s representations of this muse residing in museum collections around the world, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, San Francisco Museum of Art, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The artist’s portrayal of Qusuquzah in the present work readily recalls notable references throughout Thomas’ oeuvre, such as Pam Grier as Foxy Brown and the 1960s-70s cover women of Jet magazine, paying homage to the women who have long populated Thomas’ visual imagery.


    Mickalene Thomas, Qusuquzah, une très belle négresse 1, 2011. San Francisco Museum of Art, Image: © Mickalene Thomas / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    First photographing her muses in her Brooklyn studio, Thomas then crystallizes her portraits through paint and collage, evoking the practices of Romare Bearden and Henri Matisse—in this case, with additional resonance of Matisse’s portraits of women such as Le chapeau aux roses (Hat with Roses). The artist’s hallmark technique of lavishly imbedding her compositions with rhinestones both formally and symbolically layer her paintings, reflecting her investigations of the broader human experience. As Thomas explains, “Everyone had wood paneling in their house, regardless of race, and everyone loves rhinestones. 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.”ii





    "The unabashed visual richness of these works attests to the power of the decorative while extending the tenets of Conceptual identity art into an unusually full-bodied form of painting...Above all, these works convey a pride of person that gives any viewer—not only women—an occasion to rise to."
    —Roberta Smith


    Portrait of Qusuquzah #5 captures the visual decadence of Thomas’ paintings, which functions to insist on her subjects’ presence and visibility, as does their assertive gaze—subverting not just the male gaze but also the absence of Black female representation in the art historical canon. “By selecting women of color, I am quite literally raising their visibility and inserting their presence into the conversation, portraying real women with their own unique history, beauty and background, working to diversify the representations of Black women in art.”iii Thomas masterfully presents this insistence through the intimate nature of the present composition, encapsulating the artist’s word, “Just as my muses insist on their visibility and identity, I want my viewers to feel present with fierceness and boldness. Through the act of seeing, I want them to feel validated just as much. I want them to claim their rightful space in the world.”iv



    i Mickalene Thomas, quoted in Allyssia Alleyne, “What makes a muse? Mickalene Thomas on the power of the model,” CNN Style, May 31, 2016.

    ii 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.

    iii Mickalene Thomas, quoted in Diana d’Arenberg, “Mickalene Thomas at Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong,” Ocula, December 2, 2016.

    iv 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.

    • Provenance

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

    • Exhibited

      San Jose Museum of Art, Rise Up! Social Justice in Art, June 8 – September 30, 2018, p. 9 (illustrated)

    • 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

Property from an Important West Coast Collection


Portrait of Qusuquzah #5

signed, titled and dated "Portrait of Qusuquzah #5, 2011 M. Thomas" on the reverse
rhinestones, acrylic and enamel on panel
72 x 46 in. (182.9 x 116.8 cm)
Executed in 2011.

Full Cataloguing

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $504,000

Contact Specialist

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 November 2021