Now Exhibitions

Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me

Closing Soon | Artist Residency

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The work of celebrated, multidisciplinary artist Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971) fills our galleries in this new exhibition that explores her vibrant and resonant dialogue with authorship, identity, desire, and the historically charged relationship between artist and muse. You’ll encounter more than 50 of Thomas’s works, including her signature rhinestone-encrusted paintings as well as collages, sculptures, immersive installations, and the premiere of a multichannel video set to music by Grammy Award–winning drummer, composer, and producer Terri Lyne Carrington. This new work, Je t’aime trois, has been made possible by a Wexner Center Artist Residency Award. The collaborators will also perform entrepe, a live piece inspired by the project, on October 4.

In pursuing fine art degrees at Pratt Institute and Yale University, Thomas didn’t see in art history the strong black women who raised her—women she admired and who looked like her. She turned to examining and expanding on the representation of women of color in art, addressing their absence and celebrating their beauty. With a special focus on the artist’s opulent, grandly scaled paintings, I Can’t See You Without Me looks at four of the most significant muses in Thomas’s work spanning 2001–2018: her late mother, Sandra; her former girlfriend Maya; her current partner, Racquel; and the artist herself. Taking inspiration from iconic portraits (by artists such as Ingres, Manet, and Warhol, to name a few) and 1970s popular culture, among other sources, Thomas masterfully paints these women, asserting their strength, personality, and confidence.

"A hallmark of Thomas’s work…is what she describes as ‘recognition and acknowledgement and validation: you see me and I see you.’ It can be difficult to tear yourself away from those gazes. But then, why would you want to?"
—Nicole Rudick, "Paris Review"

On view September 14–December 30, the exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring new essays on Thomas’s work by Beverly Guy-Sheftall, chair of Comparative Women’s Studies at Spelman College (who joins us for the opening); Nicole R. Fleetwood, associate professor in the Department of American Studies at Rutgers University; and Antwaun Sargent, a New York–based writer and art critic, along with an introduction by exhibition cocurator Michael Goodson. The exhibition is also enhanced by an audio guide featuring commentary by Thomas and her partner Racquel along with Wexner Center educator Dionne Custer Edwards.

Please note: this exhibition contains mature content and may not be suitable for all ages.

Collage style painting of a black woman posing on a couch wearing a purple jumpsuit and heels

Mickalene Thomas
Racquel Reclining Wearing Purple Jumpsuit, 2016
Rhinestones, glitter, flock, acrylic, and oil on wood panel
96 x 144 in.
The Rachel and Jean-Pierre Lehmann Collection
© Mickalene Thomas / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Photo portrait of artist Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas
Photo © Lyndsy Welgos

Vertical collage painting of muse Racquel in a highly stylized pose

Mickalene Thomas
Racquel: Come to Me, 2016
Rhinestones, acrylic, oil, oil stick, and glitter on wood panel
108 x 84 in.
Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong
© Mickalene Thomas / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Self portrait painting of Mickalene Thomas lounging on a couch in textural patterns

Mickalene Thomas
Afro Goddess Looking Forward, 2015
Rhinestones, acrylic, and oil on wood panel
60 x 96 in.
Courtesy of the artist
© Mickalene Thomas / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

installation of Mickalene Thomas artwork in the Wexner Center galleries

Installation view of Mickalene Thomas: I Can't See You Without Me at the Wexner Center

installation of Mickalene Thomas artworks in the Wexner Center galleries

Installation view of Mickalene Thomas: I Can't See You Without Me at the Wexner Center

installation of Mickalene Thomas artworks in the Wexner Center galleries

Installation view of Mickalene Thomas: I Can't See You Without Me at the Wexner Center

installation of Mickalene Thomas artworks in the Wexner Center galleries

Installation view of Mickalene Thomas: I Can't See You Without Me at the Wexner Center

installation of Mickalene Thomas artworks in the Wexner Center galleries

Installation view of Mickalene Thomas: I Can't See You Without Me at the Wexner Center

installation of Mickalene Thomas artworks in the Wexner Center galleries

Installation view of Mickalene Thomas: I Can't See You Without Me at the Wexner Center

installation of Mickalene Thomas artworks in the Wexner Center galleries

Installation view of Mickalene Thomas: I Can't See You Without Me at the Wexner Center

Painting of two figures wrestling in stripe patterned attire on a red floor

Mickalene Thomas
It Hurts So Good! (Brawlin' Spitfire Two), 2007
Rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on wood panel
72 x 60 in.
Collection of Danny First, Los Angeles
© Mickalene Thomas / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Painted portrait of Mickalene's mother in black formal attire on patterned backgrounds

Mickalene Thomas
Mama Bush (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher, 2009
Rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on wood panel
82 x 72 in.
Private collection
© Mickalene Thomas / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Video still of Mickalene's mother seated against a dark red wall looking to the left

Mickalene Thomas
Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman, 2012 (still)
Digital video
23:06 mins.
Courtesy of the artist
© Mickalene Thomas / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

About the Artist(s)

Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me was organized by the Wexner Center for the Arts and curated by Michael Goodson, senior curator of exhibitions, and Lucy I. Zimmerman, assistant curator.

 

SUPPORTING SPONSOR OF MICKALENE THOMAS: I CAN'T SEE YOU WITHOUT ME
Crane Family Foundation

 

ADDITIONAL SUPPORT FOR MICKALENE THOMAS: I CAN'T SEE YOU WITHOUT ME 
Crabbe, Brown & James
Donna and Larry James

 

FREE FIRST SUNDAYS FOR THIS EXHIBITION PRESENTED BY
Equitas Health

 

THIS EVENT PRESENTED IN CONJUNCTION WITH
I, Too, Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100

 

SUPPORT FOR FREE AND LOW-COST PROGRAMS AT THE WEXNER CENTER
Huntington Bank
Cardinal Health Foundation

 

GENERAL OPERATING SUPPORT FOR THE WEXNER CENTER
Greater Columbus Arts Council
Ohio Arts Council
The Columbus Foundation
Nationwide Foundation

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Now Exhibitions

Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me