DAYTON — Artist Mickalene Thomas challenges current standards and asserts new definitions of beauty and inspiration through her groundbreaking photographs in the special exhibition, “Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs” and its companion exhibition, “tete-a-tete,” on view at the Dayton Art Institute from Oct. 20 through Jan. 13.
“Muse” is the first exhibition to gather together her various approaches to photography. The exhibition is organized by Aperture Foundation, New York, and presented in conjunction with Cincinnati’s FotoFocus Biennial. The Dayton Art Institute is a participating venue of this year’s FotoFocus Biennial.
“Mickalene Thomas highlights the importance of representation by creating positive images of black and lesbian women within art history, images that are sorely lacking,” said Katherine Ryckman Siegwarth, the Dayton Art Institute’s in-house curator for the exhibition. “Through various references and visual motifs, Thomas challenges the standards of beauty that exclude blackness and female autonomy.”
Thomas identifies the photographic image as a defining touchstone for her practice, alongside her large-scale, multi-textured paintings. As a student at Yale, Thomas first began to photograph herself and her mother, a pivotal experience for her as an artist.
Much of her work functions as an act of deconstruction and appropriation. She draws inspiration widely, borrowing various visual motifs, including 1970s black-is-beautiful imagery, 19th-century French painting and 20th-century studio portraiture.
The artworks presented in the exhibition reflect a personal community of inspiration, a collection of muses that includes Thomas herself, her mother, friends and lovers. These muses emphasize the communal and social aspects of art-making and creativity that pervade her work. Nearly 50 artworks are highlighted in “Muse,” including a three-dimensional tableau reminiscent of a 1970s-era domestic space, replicating the studio installation where Thomas and her models collaborate.
Communities of inspiration are further highlighted in the companion exhibition, “tete-a-tete,” curated by Thomas. This mini-exhibition within “Muse” includes works by 10 artists who have inspired Thomas. Placed consciously in dialogue with her own practice, these works contain many of the same themes central to Thomas’s practice. Artists include Renee Cox, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Zanele Muholi and Carrie May Weems, among others.
Together, “Muse” and “tete-a-tete” create a robust visual conversation about the representation of the black body in today’s society, and the exhibitions provide opportunities for guests to reflect on how various forms of visual culture help shape their own identities and how they, too, collect and process information.
“The Dayton Art Institute is committed to bringing together people of all ages and backgrounds in the region in order to create meaningful experiences and foster dialogue about important topics,” said Director and CEO Michael R. Roediger. “Our hope is that work of Mickalene Thomas and the other artists featured in ‘tete-a-tete’ will foster many conversations in our community.”
A number of events and programs will be held in conjunction with the exhibition, including Trivia Night, Nov. 2, 5:30 to 8 p.m.; artist talk with Willis “Bing” Davis, Nov.10, 11:30 a.m.; Curatorial Conversations exhibition tour, Nov. 15, 6 to 7 p.m.; The Language of Art, Nov. 28 and Dec. 1, noon to 2 p.m. each day; behind the scenes talk, Nov. 29, 4 to 5 p.m.; and artist talk with Amy Powell, Dec. 8, 11:30 a.m.
Admission to “Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs” and “tete-a-tete” is free for museum members and children 6 and under; $14 adults; $11 seniors 60 and older, students 18 and older, active military and groups of 10 or more; $6 youth 7 to 17; Prices include admission to “Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs” and “tete-a-tete,” as well as the museum’s collection galleries.
In addition, Equitas Health will sponsor Community Day at the museum, Oct. 27, with free admission to the special exhibition and museum collection that day.
For information, visit www.daytonartinstitute.org/muse and join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #MuseDAI. To learn more about Mickalene Thomas, visit at www.mickalenethomas.com.