The celebrated artist Mickalene Thomas, who frequently mines the cultural significance and contributions of black women, will stage her latest exhibition this September at Lévy Gorvy. Titled Beyond the Pleasure Principle, the multipart exhibition—which will unfold in four international art capitals throughout the fall—features large-scale paintings that showcase various black women Thomas discovered in vintage issues of the black-centric publication Jet Magazine.
The exhibition will open September 9 at the buzzy Upper East Side art gallery Lévy Gorvy, which has previously presented works by Jean Michael Basquiat, Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol in its space. Beyond the Pleasure Principle sees Thomas shift away from her infamous practice of casting lovers, friends, and mentors as her models and muses and, instead, curating images from Jet’s Beauty of the Week series. The series, which ran through Jet Magazine’s heyday, in the sixties and seventies, featured black models, both amateur and professionals, in pin-up style setups. The photos have been hailed as providing a space for the beauty of black women to be normalized and celebrated.
Thomas’ latest large-scale works—which effortlessly combines collage, mixed-media art, painting, and archiving—acts as a fabulous ode to Jet’s Beauty of the Week models and, more largely, black women in general. The title is even pulled from the infamous cultural contribution of a black woman: Janet Jackson’s 1987 hit song “Pleasure Principle,” which, itself, was inspired partly by the similarly titled landmark 1920 essay by psychologist Sigmund Freud. This constant uplifting and highlighting of the splendor and labor of black women is purposeful for Thomas. In a 2019 interview with Art Basel, Thomas described her work with, “The gaze of my work is unapologetically a black woman’s gaze loving other black women.”
Beyond the Pleasure Principle will shift and take on new shape through each location each visits throughout this fall, which includes Hong Kong, Paris, London, and New York. The multisite experience will include video works, installations, and paintings. So, in many ways, the Lévy Gorvy portion of the show offers a unique, one-of-a-kind portion of Beyond the Pleasure Principle.