Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle
Lévy Gorvy, New York
September 11 - November 27, 2021
Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle (2021) at Lévy Gorvy, New York, was the first in a multipart international exhibition including London, Paris, and Hong Kong. Each city presented interconnected bodies of work, ranging from painting and collage to installation and video. With the sequential openings of Beyond the Pleasure Principle in the gallery’s global locations, Thomas set 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 signaled Thomas’s personal, artistic, and political intentions while acknowledging the intersection of influences and techniques underlying her work.
The New York exhibition debuted ten large-scale paintings composed of silkscreen, oil and acrylic paint, and rhinestone application, featuring archival images 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 widened her consideration of Black women’s bodies in art, media, and politics to include images from the 1970s. By overlaying these vintage images with abstract and geometric gestures and interventions—Thomas reflected on the complex forces that shape our understanding of beauty, desire, identity, and power.