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Solo exhibition by celebrated artist Mickalene Thomas explores race, identity, and gender this fall at AGO

First Canadian solo exhibition of Mickalene Thomas features 25 new and recent works, opens in Toronto on Nov. 29, 2018

TORONTO — Internationally acclaimed for her powerful portraits of Black women, Brooklyn-based artist Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971) comes to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) this fall with a remarkable exhibition that sparks urgent questions about race and sexuality and how we see the Black female body. Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires, which explores Black celebrity culture and Western art history through a queer feminist lens, includes paintings, video montages, silkscreens, photographs and several immersive living room tableaux. Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires is Thomas’s first large scale solo exhibition in Canada and will take over Level 5 of the AGO’s David & Vivian Campbell Centre for Contemporary Art.

A unique international partnership between the AGO and the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans (CACNO), the exhibition opens in Toronto on Nov. 29, 2018. Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires is curated by Julie Crooks, the AGO’s Assistant Curator of Photography, in collaboration with Andrea Andersson, The Helis Foundation Chief Curator of Visual Arts at the CACNO. 

“This exciting collaboration highlights how Mickalene Thomas’s art connects to timely global conversations about race, gender and representation,” said Julie Crooks, Assistant Curator of Photography, AGO. “For Canadian audiences, the exhibition offers not only an exciting introduction to Thomas’s work, but also an opportunity to see how contemporary art can effectively disrupt stereotypes in Western art history and challenge notions of beauty in popular culture.”

Portraits of Diana Ross and Diahann Carroll are just two of the many collage-based works in the exhibition, their larger than life faces assembled like jigsaw pieces and silk screened onto mirrored surfaces. “In Mickalene Thomas’s art, collage is both an artistic device and a philosophy of representation. Every work in this exhibition, whether painting or film, is a kind of collage – composed of images and elements that read differently depending on the context and viewer,” says Andrea Andersson, The Helis Foundation Chief Curator of Visual Arts, CACNO. "The Black women in Thomas's art are complex subjects shaped by backgrounds, experiences, and cultures that cannot be reduced to one-point perspective."

A centrepiece of the exhibition is Do I Look Like a Lady? (Comedians and Singers) (2016), a large scale video installation which features short archival clips of iconic Black female performers from various eras, including Whitney Houston, Nina Simone, Whoopie Goldberg and Wanda Sykes. With acerbic humour and biting critique, this two-channel video projection exposes the weight of being a Black female celebrity in an often fickle and sexist entertainment industry.

Another highlight is Thomas’s Le dejeuner dur l’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires (2009), a monumental painting that recasts Edoaurd Manet’s iconic 1863 work. In contrast to the two white women in Manet’s work, here three Black women wear funky jewelry and outfits, glamourous makeup and fabulous coiffures. The Black women are centered and stare at the viewer with self-possessed unflinching gazes. This vibrant collage of rich colours, rhinestones and fragmented shapes is a cheeky homage to the original painting while highlighting conversations about race, gender and history.

“I'm inserting the figures of Black women, who have largely been forgotten or marginalized throughout the history of Western art,” says Thomas. “They are my muses and just as they insist on their visibility and identity, I want my viewers to feel present with fierceness and boldness as well.”

Continuing the AGO’s commitment to exhibit the very best of contemporary art from around the world, and to highlight women artists, Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires runs to March 24, 2019. The exhibition will travel to New Orleans in the spring of 2019.

This exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue with contributions by curators Julie Crooks (AGO), Andrea Andersson (CACNO) as well as an essay by Antwaun Sargent and literary excerpts by Alice Walker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, Lorraine O’Grady, Jesmond Ward, Edwidge Danticat and Makeda Silvera.

The exhibition is included with General Admission and is free to AGO members. More information on the benefits of AGO membership can be found at www.ago.net/general-membership.

Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto and the Contemporary Arts Centre, New Orleans.

ABOUT MICKALENE THOMAS
Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971, Camden, NJ; lives and works in Brooklyn, NY) is a 2015 USA Francie Bishop Good and David Horvitz Fellow, visual artist and filmmaker who draws on art history and popular culture to create a contemporary vision of female sexuality, beauty, and power. Blurring the distinction between object and subject, concrete and abstract, real and imaginary, Thomas constructs complex portraits, landscapes, and interiors to examine how identity, gender, and sense-of-self are informed by the ways women and “feminine” spaces are represented in art and popular culture. Thomas’s work is in numerous international public and private collections including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Art Institute of Chicago; MoMA PS1, New York; Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Yale University Art Collection, New Haven, CT; and Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo.

Lead Sponsor                          CIBC

Lead Supporters                      Maxine Granovsky Gluskin & Ira Gluskin
                                             Liza Mauer & Andrew Sheiner

Generously supported by          Partners in Art
                                             The Schulich Foundation

ABOUT THE CAC
The Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), New Orleans is a multidisciplinary arts center dedicated to the presentation, production, and promotion of the art of our time. Formed in 1976 by a passionate group of visual and performing artists when the movement to tear down the walls between visual and performing arts was active nationwide, the CAC expresses its mission by organizing world class curated exhibitions, performances, and public programs that educate and enlarge audiences for the arts while encouraging collaboration among diverse stakeholder composed of artists, institutions, communities, and supporters throughout the world. For more information, visit cacno.org

ABOUT THE AGO
Located in Toronto, Canada’s largest city of 5.9 million, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is one of the largest art museums in North America. The AGO’s collection of close to 95,000 works ranges from cutting-edge contemporary art such as Untilled by Pierre Huyghe to European masterpieces such as Peter Paul Rubens’s The Massacre of The Innocents; from the vast collection by the Group of Seven to works by established and emerging Indigenous Canadian artists; with a photography collection that tracks the impact of the medium with deep holdings of works by artists such as Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus; and with focused collections in Gothic boxwood miniatures and Western and Central African art. Drawing on this collection—as well as collaborations with museums around the world—the AGO presents wide-ranging exhibitions and programs, taking special care to showcase diverse and underrepresented artists. A major expansion designed by Frank Gehry in 2008 with lead support from the family of Ken Thomson makes the AGO a highly-photographed architectural landmark. Visit ago.ca and follow @AGOToronto to learn more.

July 12 – Oct. 21, 2018:            Rebecca Belmore: Facing the Monumental

Sept. 2018 – Jan. 2019:            Anthropocene

Feb. 16, 2019 – May 5, 2019:    Impressionism in the Age of Industry: Monet, Pissarro and More

The Art Gallery of Ontario is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO members, donors and private-sector partners.
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For hi-res images and other press inquiries, please contact:

Andrea-Jo Wilson; Manager, Public Relations  
416-979-6660, ext. 403,
andrea-jo.wilson@ago.ca

Naomi Carniol; Associate Director, Communications
416-979-6660, ext. 364, naomi.carniol@ago.ca

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