Back in January, when her exhibition was up at the Brooklyn Museum, Mickalene Thomas made me feel quite at home in her living rooms of the 1970s. I, of course, was born in the 80s and only know the previous decade through historical representation and stock material, and yet I am enthralled by many things that came out of those years. Thomas was born in 1971 and was largely a growing child throughout most of the 70s. And so when it comes to incorporating the decade into her work, it is much more complicated than just remembering.
Some things I don’t remember. The 70s are a part of my work, not necessarily because of nostalgia but because of a recontextualizing process. I’m reinventing those experiences that I have no memory of.
—Thomas, in an interview with Sean Landers
BOMB Magazine (Summer 2011)
Thomas’ Brooklyn Museum exhibition was called Origin of the Universe, and while her works came from such seemingly disparate places as Matisse’s early-1900s France to the different Americas of David Hockney and Romare Bearden, her universe seems to originate first from her own 1970s.
One of the focal points of the exhibition was a quartet of living rooms, ‘authentic reconstructions’ filled with the furniture, wallpaper, books, and vinyl records that made up the artist’s childhood. (I even heard that some of these items actually belonged to Thomas.) I remember one living room with a half-empty (or half-full) bottle of wine on the floor next to the sofa, with record jackets of Diana Ross leaning up against the phonograph stand and cheap, spine-creased mass-market paperbacks of Invisible Man and Roots stacked on the coffee table. Where there wasn’t wallpaper there were wood panels, on top of which hung framed photos of women that gazed right into you with stories of their own.
Images courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum