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Lévy Gorvy, is mounting an exhibition of Mickalene Thomas’s works in all four of its galleries. The shows in New York, London, Paris, and Hong Kong that will open at each location between September and October. The global expansion of the artists representation matches the international interest in her art at auction and the growing scope of her market.
The show, “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” will focus on Thomas’s interest in the Black female body, including paintings, installations, and video. Her imagery draws from her personal archives and the media of the 1970s, the decade she came of age.
The show comes after auction prices for her work passed new milestones. Last month, her painting Racquel Reclining Wearing Purple Jumpsuit (2016), a collaged and glittered portrait of a woman reclining across a couch, sold for $1.8 million at a Christie’s evening sale, triple its $600,000 high estimate. The result set a new record for the artist and became the first lot by Thomas to reach seven-figures at auction.
In December 2020, a painting from the collection of Virginia philanthropists William and Pam Royall, I’ve Been Good to Me (2013), sold at a Phillips New York evening sale for $901,200, more than four times its $200,000 low estimate. The Royall sale brought to market a rare concentration of works by key mid-career Black artists like Amy Sherald and Kehinde Wiley. At a time when demand was and still is growing, it also put Thomas’s work in the auction spotlight. The result for I’ve Been Good to Me (2013) surpassed the previous record of $697,000 paid for Naomi Looking Forward (2013) during a Sotheby’s London sale in May 2019, over an estimate of $246,000.
Thomas first gained art world recognition in 2012 with a traveling exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, “Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe.” A year later, her work was featured in “Better Days” at Galerie Volkhaus at Art Basel in Switzlerand. Six years after that hit show, attention on her has not waned. Museum shows in Paris, Brussels, Houston and Baltimore have also contributed to the escalating attention. Her work resides in the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Portrait Gallery and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts with funding for acquisitions of her works backed by collectors like Don and Mera Rubell and Robert E. Meyerhoff. “There is an accessibility to everything she does—the colors, the compositions, the glitter,” Ian Alteveer, a curator of modern and contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art once said describing her work.
Despite the acclaim around her 2012 exhibition, other museums in cities across the U.S. were reluctant to take on the traveling show. “I heard from museums, ‘Our audiences aren’t ready for this work,’ Thomas told The New York Times in 2019, adding, “You know, black women, when you go down the list, we’re the last, right?” Now, at a time when museums around the country reckon with their discriminatory past, artists like Thomas, who have long been underrepresented in institutions, are receiving recognition.
In just under a decade, interest among curators has risen steadily; so, too, has Thomas’s market. Rarely surfacing in evening auctions, Thomas’s market has demonstrated strength in day and mid-season sales, where her works appear more frequently. At Phillips ‘New Now’ sale at its London headquarters in March, her Untitled (#10) from 2014 sold for $889,000, more than ten times the $70,000 low estimate. The price is more than six times the $131,250 for which the seller paid in 2014 at Phillips. Between 2014 and 2015 her highest prices hovered around $120,000-$145,000. In six years, her primary market values have increased by a factor of about four times, and top works notching new auction prices recently have now elevated her works to the evening sales.
In an analysis of sales that took placed from March to April across 1,126 lots sold in day sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips, the untitled Thomas painting, which features a collaged face set against a bright pink background, was ranked number 6 by hammer ratio. Hammer ratio measures intensity of demand by calculating how far the lot’s hammer price was bid up past its estimates. The statistic signals fierce competition among bidders for her prime works, which are scarce on the secondary market, a trend that is often symptomatic of a tight supply on the primary side.
Across sales held between March and June this year, ten works by Thomas were traded at auction generating a collective $4.15 million, with an average single-lot price of $415,088. This is squarely between the range of $350,000 to $550,000 for which her works sell privately, according to dealer Brett Gorvy. Records from art fairs show prices paid in the last year in the range between $125,000-$240,000 for her media-based works, including recent iterations of her Jet paintings, made from vintage magazine spreads featuring nude Black models.
The few number of top-level works by Thomas traded at auction is also an indication that her highest quality paintings— which are just a small fraction of her entire output of video, mixed media and installations—are strategically placed in collections with staying power by the artist’s former and current dealers, Lehmann Maupin and Lévy Gorvy. For her dealers, the next step in making Thomas’s market grow is gaining further visibility around the the globe. In a statement on the dealer’s upcoming four-part show, Gorvy told Artnet the aim is to expand Thomas’s market internationally, with a particular focus on an existing collector base in Paris, while seeking to “keep the market attractive for collectors, for patrons, for museums.”