The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

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September 15, 2023 to March 17, 2024 | South Gallery, Balcony Gallery, Main Street Sculpture

Chiffon Thomas: The Cavernous

Chiffon Thomas’ first solo museum exhibition will unveil a new body of work including the artist’s first public sculpture. Thomas’ interdisciplinary practice, spanning embroidery, collage, sculpture, drawing, performance, and installation, examines the ruptures that exist where race, gender expression, and biography intersect. Thomas’ practice is informed by his background in education, percussion, and stop motion animation, as well as a childhood steeped in religion. The artist cites artists Noah Purifoy, Louise Bourgeois, Odilon Redon, Torkwase Dyson, and Martin Puryear, authors Octavia E. Butler and bell hooks among his inspirations. Mining imagery and content from architecture, science fiction, and art history, Thomas interweaves narratives that collapse time and circumstance to survey the adaptability of identity and to scrutinize systems and structures of power and control. He joins material in architectural forms with ambiguous forms of his and others’ bodies, structured and sutured in urethane, foam, plaster, and leather, to illustrate portals of regenerative space. Interrogating a legacy of colonization, Black injustice, and classism in the US, Thomas entwines materials resonant with personal and collective histories of trauma and repair, as well as resilience and transformation. Sliding between representation and abstraction, Thomas’ methodology underscores society’s binary opposition, finding agency and care within the gaps and fissures that endure.

Installation Images

The exhibition features drawings and sculptures at varying sizes and tempos, including Thomas’ largest works to date and latest experimentations with new materials and fabrication methods. The centerpieces of the exhibition are three monumental sculptures, installed inside the galleries and on the Museum’s grounds. Each combines life-size fiberglass casts of a human body, weathered to appear almost sunbaked, with geodesic domes of steel and mica that appear illuminated. The solitary figure, cast in recumbent and seated postures, appears entangled, interned, and engulfed by the immersive domes’ dense matrix of triangular planes. Twentieth-century American architect, engineer, and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) received a patent for the geodesic dome in 1954 as his solution to the then ballooning housing crisis. Its novel design, although futuristic and environmentally efficient, never caught on in part due to a far-off appearance and challenging internal blueprint. Surveying the relationship between the structural efficiency of the human body and Fuller’s utopian vision, Thomas bridges figuration with engineering, foreseeing a machine being or what he refers to as an “impossible body.”

The exhibition’s title, The Cavernous, alludes not only to the structure’s capacious shape but also to a world of imagination, a realm from the distant past or a faraway future as inferred by a vast and boundless interiority. Evocative of bellies, wombs, and crania as well as housing, temporary shelters, and playground equipment, their preternatural mood is amplified by a shifting materiality that sets them aglow. Thomas has furnished one of the domes with a miniaturized hatch, suggestive of a portal and vessel to an undetermined or not yet realized landscape. At a scheduled event, the artist will perform inside one of the indoor sculptures, using sound as a catalyst to guide healing, transition, and impending regeneration.

Chiffon Thomas: The Cavernous is curated by Amy Smith-Stewart, Chief Curator.

The exhibition will be accompanied by the artist’s first museum catalogue, featuring an essay by Smith-Stewart.

About the Artist

Chiffon Thomas was born in 1991 in Chicago and lives and works in Los Angeles. He received an MFA from Yale University and a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has been awarded residencies at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and the Fountainhead Residency in Miami and is a current fellow of the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Thomas’ work is in the permanent collections of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; Pérez Art Museum, Miami; and the Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH; among others. He has exhibited his work at Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles; P.P.O.W., New York; Kavi Gupta, Chicago; and SculptureCenter, New York.


Hear artist Chiffon Thomas describe the meaning behind the exhibition title "The Cavernous."

Hear artist Chiffon Thomas talk about a major influence in his exhibition, Buckminster Fuller and his Geodesic Dome.


An Inside Look at Polish–A Performance by Chiffon Thomas

Learn more about Chiffon Thomas' performance Polish at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.

Virtual Artist Conversation: Chiffon Thomas and Dr. Alyssa Collins

A virtual conversation on the current exhibition Chiffon Thomas: The Cavernous featuring the artist and Dr. Alyssa Collins, Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of South Carolina and the inaugural Huntington Library Octavia E. Butler Fellow.

About The Cavernous

Chiffon Thomas describes the meaning behind the exhibition title "The Cavernous."

Performance: Polish

On Saturday, February 3 Chiffon Thomas performed Polish, an hour-long performance in the Museum's South Gallery. The performance took place inside the artist’s exhibition, The Cavernous, where Thomas performed inside his capacious sculpture, Untitled (Dome, Figure 1), which he outfitted with a miniaturized hatch. Turning his sculpture into a vessel or portal to an undetermined landscape, the artist enacted a series of choreographed movements timed to percussive sound and orchestrated lighting to guide healing, passage, and regeneration.



Major support for Chiffon Thomas: The Cavernous is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. Significant support is provided by Derek Fordjour; Michael Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles; and Michael Sherman and Carrie Tivador. Additional support is provided by Diana Bowes and Jim Torrey; The Cowles Charitable Trust; Bernard I. Lumpkin and Carmine D. Boccuzzi; and Leslie and Michael Weissman. The catalogue is supported by the Eric Diefenbach and James-Keith Brown Publications Fund; Michael Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles; and P·P·O·W, New York. Production support is provided by the Diana Bowes and Jim Torrey Commissions Fund.


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Top image: Chiffon Thomas: The Cavernous (installation view), The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, September 15, 2023 to March 17, 2024. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jason Mandella