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Art House

The Bailey House "Art House" fundraiser: an evening honoring multidisciplinary visual artist Mickalene Thomas as the recipient of the 2024 Gina Quattrochi Arts & Legacy Award​


By Joanna Seifter, July 6, 2024

When introducing his friend and colleague Mickalene Thomas to audiences at Art House 2024, fashion designer and philanthropist Robert Verdi described her artistic vision as “immersed in Black beauty, driven by feminine power, and overflowing with seduction.” Almost as if to prove his point, propped next to Verdi was Thomas’ Afro Muse #4 in Black and White (2014), a photograph of a young woman baring her chest and psyche, staring deeply at the unseen viewer. Her brows belie something thinly obscured, compelling–pride? Desire? Defiance? Her unblemished skin glows against the blanket’s woven pattern and her left hand curls inward, challenging the viewer to hold her gaze. 


Afro Muse #4 was one of several works auctioned at Art House 2024’s Benefit Auction on June 17. The event is annually hosted by Housing Works and Bailey House, New York-based charities that combat homelessness and AIDS. Art House annually recognizes an outstanding queer artist with the Gina Quattrochi Arts and Legacy Award in honor of Bailey House’s late CEO. Thomas, a lesbian multidisciplinary artist, joined previous honorees Billy Porter, Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Cumming, and Cynthia Nixon as Art House’s 2024 guest of honor. While Art House began several days earlier with a silent auction, it culminated on June 17 with its in-person gathering at the Bowery Hotel in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.


Art House’s stakeholders, from seasoned artists to benefactors to Gen Z socialites, were clad in the sharpest suits, stylish caftans, and glamorous spectacles this side of the Met Gala. They mingled across the Bowery Hotel’s sun-drenched patio, lounge, and vestibule for the first hour, launching into industry anecdotes and impromptu networking sessions over hors d'oeuvres and Aperols. The silent auction’s nearly fifty contemporary drawings, paintings, and photographs by artists, exhibited in a salon-style arrangement just beyond the Hotel’s entrance, also drew crowds and sparked conversation. Taha Clayton’s 2022 print Soldier of Love received a high volume of virtual bids and in-person interest, with visitors and patrons admiring Clayton’s lush color palette, swaths of gorgeous natural lighting, intricate line-work, and the subject’s confident pose. Kevin Sabo’s attenuated-to-the-point-of-grotesque proportions and charmingly exaggerated facial expressions in Legs, Hips, Body-ody-ody (2022) also generated some in-person buzz. 


At around 7:30, attendees convened at the event’s stage, which displayed the artworks that would be auctioned in real-time. Following Bailey House board member Kathleen McGivney's reaffirmed and celebrated Housing Works and Bailey House’s philanthropic missions and Verdi’s introduction, Thomas took to the stage to accept her award. Thomas, whose impressive portfolio boasts paintings, photography, drawing, and mixed-media canvases, is currently the subject of a comprehensive retrospective at The Broad in Los Angeles, Mickalene Thomas: All About Love. In a moving nod to both her oeuvre and recent curatorial debut, Mickalene Thomas / Portrait of an Unlikely Space at Yale University Art Gallery, Thomas described her representation of Black women in museums and galleries as a reclamation of “spaces that we don't often see ourselves, but we know that those are spaces we deserve to be in.” Thomas’ speech was emblematic of her creative passion, the breadth of her professional accomplishments, and the extent to which she admires and advocates for the very causes Bailey House and Housing Works champion. 

Works by fellow visionary queer photographers Herb Ritts and Robert Mapplethorpe were then auctioned off alongside Thomas’ by the effervescent Robbie Gordy. The dramatically sensual lighting of Ritts’ Curved Torso, Hollywood (1989) obscures the subject’s face while accentuating his muscularity, at once abstracting and clarifying his hunched form. Mapplethorpe’s Feathers (1985) escalates Ritts’ striking values, highlighting the titular feathers into angular daggers while softening their polished vase. Both photographs mirror Afro Muse #4’s intensity, forming a cohesive ensemble. Ultimately, all three works sold to different bidders–Ritts’ for $5,000, Mapplethorpe’s for $9,000, and Thomas’ for $21,000–concluding Art House’s lively, heartfelt ode to the power of art, philanthropy and Pride Month.

Images by Joanna Seifter

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