Mickalene Thomas, “Untitled” 2015

Mickalene Thomas, Untitled, 2015.
Installation at the Queens Museum, on view until March 31, 2016


This past June, the Queens Museum premiered a new installation by Mickalene Thomas. Painter, photographer, and video artist, Thomas is hyperprolific across media; expertly adapting each medium into the sense of beauty and complexity Thomas works from. Museum goers might recall seeing a mural installed outside of MoMA’s restaurant, and maybe even the 2012 piece at Barclay’s Center.  New York City’s grid system is a prominent form in Untitled, 2015, also echoing the structure of the 1964 World’s Fair globe, also on  museum grounds and easily glimpsed while viewing Untitled.

Inspired by the New York City panorama at the Museum, Thomas culled from a studio archive of “natural imagery from the five boroughs, [advancing] my investigation of collage’s potential to represent specific locations and communities.” Communities are central to the greater identity of the borough: at least 160 languages are spoken in Queens, some of them extinct in their place of origin. In addressing the unique and exquisite collages of human diversity, Thomas reframed the space that brings people together, or at least where inter-cultural encounters first happen: out of doors, in a public setting.


Mickalene Thomas, Hudson River On My Mind, 2009.


The public world and its charged perceptions aren’t new themes for Thomas. Reclaiming traditions is an important process, especially from the relationships and tensions between painting and photography. In photographs, landscapes have been an extension of  the subject’s personae, but in works without a figurative presence Thomas reshapes angles and modulates the spatial experience directing the eyes to all the movements and textures convincing the eyes with their impeccable beauty. Hudson River On My Mind has its own form (of wind? of water? of watching fauna sway by the river?)  just as Monet’s Kitchen shows a play with linearity that, instead of flattening space, gives a feeling of 3 dimensionality.


Mickalene Thomas, Monet’s Kitchen, 2014


Mickalene Thomas, Untitled, 2015.
Detail view: installation at Queens Museum, on view until March, 2016


The photographs composing the mural show a natural world uncrowded and overpopulated—patches of calm within the urban framework. In a very open manner, Thomas activates the details of public spaces where festivals happen; where people meet and picnic; play sports; or just enjoy the sun. Thomas shows us a grid where the positive and negative space, although far from interchangeable, are in constant play with each other. Untitled, 2015 inverts the cityscape, highlighting the predictability of well-cut paths, and frames our upward glances at wide skies, glances at the park. Living in such a compressed environment that already feels like a collage, Thomas renders elements of the five boroughs with an understated attention to the spaces between crowds, the spaces  enabling movement of a different kind—connection between communities.