Mickalene Thomas and Kavi Gupta Fêted Guests With an Armory Week Feast

Guests got a delightful tour that started, oddly, in a bathroom.

Erick Williams, Mickalene Thomas, and Michael Kornick at her Brooklyn studio.
Photo: J Grassi

Despite last night’s wintry mix and slushy streets, a few dozen guests made it to a dinner party organized by dealer Kavi Gupta at the Brooklyn studio of artist Mickalene Thomas (see Mickalene Thomas Signs With Kavi Gupta), which featured food by Chicago chef Michael Kornick. A few lucky visitors got a tour, which started off in an improbable spot.

“I know this looks just like a bathroom,” Thomas said, “but this is Gallery Seven by Five.”

Gesturing to a small, abstract drawing on the wall by her assistant Denae Howard, she pointed out that the tiny exhibition space, where a toilet and sink are also on display, offers changing exhibitions devoted to work by her staff. “I have seven great people working here, including Sam, who started today,” she said. A blackboard by the front door featured the message “Welcome, Sam!” with a chalk drawing of a celebratory balloon.

The second stop was another bathroom gallery, where visitors saw a boxing-style robe emblazoned with the name “Mickey” and the head of a roaring tiger. “That’s for when I need to kick some ass,” she said. “We’re going to get a heavy bag too.”

On chef Kornick’s menu were Maine lobster sandwiches, Dover sole with black butter, a sea urchin potato chip, and sea scallop, along with cocktails like rosemary and ginger infused martinis. While she wasn’t exactly in the kitchen, Thomas offered Kornick general guidance on the cuisine. “I’m into farm-to-table,” she told artnet News, “and we talked about soul food.”

Thomas was the subject of a critically lauded 2012-13 Brooklyn Museum survey that traveled to the Santa Monica Museum of Art; the Pratt Institute grad has also had institutional solos at venues ranging from the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston to Tokyo’s Hara Museum of Contemporary Art. As artnet’s Alexander Benrimon wrote in 2013, Thomas, who is “well known for her rhinestone, enamel, and acrylic paintings, as well as her Blaxploitation-style portraits of black women, explores modern notions of beauty and sexuality, drawing heavily from pop culture and Pop Art.” (See In the Artist’s Studio: An Interview with Mickalene Thomas.)

The meal aimed at whetting its guest’s appetite for Armory Week, when they’ll be running from the mammoth commercial fair to tiny, curator-driven fairs and many things in between (see Plan Your Armory Week 2015 With Our Guide to the Best Art on Show, Spring/Break Art Fair Is Bigger, Flashier, and Scrappier Than Ever and Independent Art Fair Offers a Stylish Chelsea Haven During Armory Week).

Among the guests were Armory Show founding director Paul Morris, contemporary art curator Jessica Moss of the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art (she’s also married to Gupta), and artist Angel Otero (Gupta shows Otero and Thomas at his galleries in Chicago and Berlin). The neighborhood, near the Navy Yard, is home to several artists’ studios, including Wangechi Mutu and Lorna Simpson. Rita Ackermann reportedly moved only recently from the space next door to Thomas’s.

Erick Williams, Mickalene Thomas, and Michael Kornick at her Brooklyn studio. Photo: J Grassi

Erick Williams, Mickalene Thomas, and Michael Kornick at her Brooklyn studio.
Photo: J Grassi

“One of Chicago’s true culinary masters” according to Esquire, Kornick was accompanied by his wife and business partner Lisa, who studied art history at Brandeis University. She reminisced about the Rose Art Museum’s program that allows students to borrow artworks to hang on their dorm room walls. She chose a Helen Frankenthaler print. The couple has previously worked with artists including Tony Tassett and Theaster Gates on art-and-food events, and they collect artists including Thomas, Jessica Stockholder, Otero and Catherine Opie.

Lively conversations were underway in various parts of the studio.

“I work in socially conscious investing,” Ian Fuller, founder of New York’s WestFuller Advisors and the grandson of Abstract-Expressionist painter Norman Lewis, told artnet News. “There were a lot of artistic people in my family, so going into finance was my rebellion,” he said with a smile.

Fuller was in a lively conversation with artist Jeff Vreeland—they were talking about their love of Spotify and their sometimes obscure musical favorites. Vreeland, who works with Thomas, boosted Tragedy, a heavy metal Bee Gees tribute band. “I think they bill themselves as, like, the best Bee Gees metal tribute band in Brooklyn,” he said.

His retro musical taste seemingly matched the retro aesthetic of Thomas’s living room-style installation in the next room. Thomas is sometimes loath to seat curators who come to visit.

“It’s so cool there,” she said, “that once they sit down, they never want to leave.”

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