First Look: Mickalene Thomas’s 1970s Cocktail Den for Art Basel

The smell of patchouli incense carries down the hall and into the courtyard of the Volkshaus in Basel. Follow it and you’ll take a trip back in time—to Mickalene Thomas’s Art Bar installation. Inspired by the artist’s mother and muse, Sandra Bush, and singer Millie Jackson, the watering hole (titled Better Days and commissioned by the Absolut Art Bureau) is sure to be this year’s Art Basel hangout of choice. It’s outfitted like the 1970s living room scenes often depicted in Thomas’ paintings, with couches and armchairs patchworked with richly patterned and colored fabrics, statement wallpapers, faux wood paneling, and sultry yellow and red lights, most of which the artist sourced from Ebay and Etsy. Revelers can sip martinis made in honor of Bush and punch designed after Jackson’s song “Phuck U Symphony” while watching 1970s TV, playing board games, and even plugging their iPhones into functioning American plugs. No detail was overlooked. Works of art by Thomas herself, Lorna Simpson, Wangechi Mutu, Xaviera Simmons, Duron Jackson, and others are integrated into the environment (and, FYI, purchasable).

Early on in the night, you can catch flicks on the movie screen (see the full schedule here); and for late-night entertainment, Thomas invited celebrity DJs like auctioneer Simon de Pury and DJ YSL to spin classic ’70s music, and guest performers, including the inimitable Solange Knowles, to woo the art-loving crowd.

Built in less than two weeks and existing only through Saturday, this art-drinks flashback is only but a fleeting experience. For a look at the process of installing the space, virtually experience Better Days through its dedicated blog, live-updating throughout the week.

Better Days is on view June 11–15, 2013, Open Daily 5pm–2am, The Galerie at Volkshaus, Rebgasse 12, Basel as a collaboration with Absolut Art Bureau.

View additional works by Mickalene at right, on view at Lehmann Maupin, Art Basel 2013 - Galleries, Booth J9, June 13th – 16th. Explore Art Basel.