By Savannah Wood, AFRO Staff, 

Mickalene Thomas: A Moment’s Pleasure opened on Nov. 24 at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA). This installation is the inaugural Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker Biennial Commission at the museum — a new program which challenges artists to create ambitious projects in one of the most heavily-trafficked areas of the museum. 

A Moment’s Pleasure completely transforms the BMA’s east entrance and two-story east lobby. Entering through a new façade that imitates Baltimore’s famed rowhouses, we step into a world of Thomas’s design. Wood paneling, faux parquet floors, and a newly carpeted staircase greet you. Thomas is well known for her sensual portraits of women in lush, highly patterned domestic environments. For this commission, she continues her exploration of Black domestic spaces in what the museum is calling a “living room for Baltimore.”

Mickalene Thomas at the Baltimore Museum of Art. (Photos by Savannah Wood)

At the top of the stairs, you’ll find a tableau reminiscent of the sets she creates in her photographs — several multi-colored couches and carpet squares, with shoes strewn on the ground like someone has just come home from work. We’re looking into a 1970s-era Black living room, a time when Thomas says an “unapologetically Black aesthetic” was championed.

Walking out onto the terrace gallery, the illusion of domestic space becomes more concrete. Somehow, she’s managed to recreate your family’s basement on a second floor balcony, complete with a fully functioning bar. This is Sylvester’s House, a fully immersive installation named after the musician whose life and music celebrated the Black queer experience. This is Baltimore’s living room.

East Lobby Loft (Photo by Savannah Wood)

In Sylvester’s House, Thomas has made room for several Baltimore-affiliated artists to share in her commission. Abdu Ali, Karryl Eugene, Devin N. Morris and Kotic Couture have videos projected in a loop on a screen toward the back. Works by Derrick Adams, Zoe Charlton, Clifford Owens and Theresa Chromati line the walls. In total, 16 artists in addition to Thomas are represented here, with more to come as the installation rotates over the next two years.

Standing behind the bar as if she’s about to serve up some cocktails, Thomas states, “This is your space… I can’t do this without all of you.”

Sylvester’s House (Photo by Savannah Wood)

During the course of the exhibition, artists and organizations are invited to submit proposals to the BMA’s education department for programming that they’d like to do in Sylvester’s House. These proposals will be woven into the BMA’s Open Hours program

The installation is admittedly an imitation of Black space, a reflection of the real, lived-in thing, but it is convincing in its artifice. It is familiar, welcoming and warm. More importantly, Sylvester’s House reminds us that its model still exists. Your home, your Black domestic space — a place that has historically given rise to both camaraderie and revolution — is available for programming whenever you’d like to use it. 

Artist Mickalene Thomas (Photo by Savannah Wood)

Mickalene Thomas: A Moment’s Pleasure is curated by Christopher Bedford with Meyerhoff-Becker Curatorial Fellow Cynthia Hodge-Thorne and curatorial assistants Katie Cooke and Carlyn Thomas. The installation will be on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art through May 2, 2021.