Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs and tête-à-tête



© Mickalene Thomas; courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Mickalene Thomas, known for her large-scale, multi-textured, and rhinestone-encrusted paintings of domestic interiors and portraits, has also identified the photographic image as a defining touchstone for her practice. Thomas first began to photograph herself and her mother as a student at Yale—a pivotal experience for her as an artist.

While working across multiple series, much of her photographic work functions as a personal act of deconstruction and reappropriation— both of images she has created herself and images she has singled out as influence. With each series, she grapples with and asserts new definitions of beauty and inspiration. Thomas’s portraits draw equally from 1970s black-is-beautiful images of women such as supermodel Beverly Johnson and actress Vonetta McGee; Édouard Manet’s odalisque figures; and the mise-en-scène studio portraiture of James Van Der Zee and Malick Sidibé, to mention a few. Perhaps of greatest importance, however, this collection of portraits and staged scenes reflects a very personal community of inspiration as well—a collection of muses that includes herself, her mother, and her friends and lovers, emphasizing the communal and social aspects of art-making and creativity that pervade her work. The accompanying Aperture publication is the first to gather together her various approaches to photography, including portraits, collages, Polaroids, and other processes.

The idea of communities of inspiration will be further carried out via tête-à-tête, an installation curated by Mickalene Thomas of work from photographers and key images which have inspired her. This will include those from older generations of artists, to those by more contemporary artists who are part of her generation or younger, and may in turn find inspiration in Thomas’s own practice. Artists in tête-à-tête include Derrick Adams, Renée Cox, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Lyle Ashton Harris, Deana Lawson, Zanele Muholi, Malick Sidibé, Xaviera Simmons, Hank Willis Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems.

Mickalene Thomas (born in Camden, New Jersey, 1971) earned her BFA in painting at Pratt Institute in 2000 and an MFA at the Yale University School of Art in 2002. Thomas participated in residencies at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, 2000–2003, and at the Versailles Foundation Munn Artists Program, Giverny, France, 2011. Her work has been included in countless exhibitions worldwide, including at La Conservera, Ceutí, Spain (2009); National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. (2010); Hara Museum, Tokyo (2011), Santa Monica Museum of Art, California (2012); and Brooklyn Museum (2012–2013). She is represented by Lehmann Maupin in New York, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, and Galerie Nathalie Obadia in Paris.


Read More:
New Yorker


Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs includes approximately 45 works. tête-à-tête includes approximately 20 works. The exhibition requires about 240 feet of linear running wall space.

The exhibition will include elements from each area of Thomas’s photographic practice, and will emphasize the artist’s different uses of photographic materials, scale, and textures—including video, large-scale C-prints, and smaller clusters of collages, C-prints, and Polaroids. An installation that replicates a corner of her studio, frequently used as the set for her photographs, will be part of the exhibition launch and Aperture Gallery and is optional for future venues. Checklist available upon request.

Teacher resource available for download:

Muse Teacher Resource
This free teacher resource is intended to inform educators about the exhibition Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs and tête-à-tête, so they are better able to lead students of all ages in meaningful discussions surrounding its content. For more information about Aperture’s educational resources contact


Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs
10 x 13 in. (25.4 x 33 cm)
156 pages
85 color and duotone images
Clothbound 978-1-59711-314-4
November 2015

Participation Fee:

$11,500 for an 8-week showing.
The host venue is responsible for pro-rated shipping and insurance. Please contact Annette Booth, Director of Exhibitions Management.


This exhibition is available through end of 2018.



Current Venue List:

  • Maryland Institute College of Art
    Baltimore, MD
    January 27 – March 12, 2017
  • Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art
    Virginia Beach, VA
    May 11 – August 13, 2017
  • Georgia Museum of Art
    Athens, GA
    Oct 14, 2017 – Jan 7, 2018
  • Pomona College Museum of Art
    Claremont, CA
    January 20 – May 13, 2018
  • Dayton Art Institute
    Dayton, OH
    October 17, 2018 – January 13, 2019