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THE FASHION IN THE NEW ISSUE of Elle magazine is eclipsed by coverage of women making a name for themselves in the art world. Carrie Mae Weems, Julie Mehretu and Mickalene Thomas—three bonafide art stars—made the cut. The December 2013 issue features the notable contemporary artists, black women with vastly different practices who’ve forged critically successful careers.

CARRIE MAE WEEMS

Primarily known for her photography, Weems’s body of work is composed of conceptual studies of race, class, gender, politics and family relationships. Elle notes that Weems (shown above, at right) has received an impressive number of accolades recently, including a U.S. State Department Medal of Arts Award presented by Hillary Clinton, a Gordon Parks Foundation award and a 2013 MacArthur “genius” award.

A three-page profile of Weems by Michael J. Agovino (pgs. 260-262) opens with the artist recalling her 2006 experience in Italy where she was on a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. She was “having the time of her life, she was actually connecting the cultural dots, using the city as a backdrop to produce some of her best work to date,” but she was surprised to realize fellow artists, white artists, friends and people she trusted, had been going to Rome participating in programs for years and had never told her. More shocking, when a peer ran into her, she asked what Weems was doing in Rome, as though somehow she didn’t belong.

The insightful article presents a hearty look at Weems and her work and coincides with a 30-year retrospective of her career currently on view at Stanford University. “Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video” is headed to the Guggenheim Museum next, where it will debut in January 2014.

Weems still grapples with finding her audience: IMG_9756

“I’m always thinking about access to a broader community that doesn’t participate in the museum. How do I have a conversation with them?…The only time that 35 black people have ever called me in the course of a day is when I had work in Jet. ‘Girl, you’re in Jet.’ Not Artforum, not The New York Times. I was in Jet, and that meant something to my folks.”
— Carrie Mae Weems

Elle offers several telling revelations about Weems: She loves the word “fabulous” and often says it twice for emphasis; She celebrated her 60th birthday in April at the Alhambra Ballroom in Harlem. “It was a kickin’ party,” Weems says; And to mark the 50th anniversary of W.E.B. Du Bois’s death, Weems is working with Oakland-based landscape architect Walter Hood to create a garden at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and she has also named a flower for him, the Du Bois Peony of Hope.

Weems declares both the party and the thought of having Du Boisian “hope spring eternal in your garden” to be incredibly “fabulous.”

JULIE MEHRETU

Later in the magazine, Mehretu (center) and Thomas (left) are featured in a special “Women in Art” package (pgs. 271-282) by Linda Yablonsky. The celebration of eight groundbreakers includes artists, as well as art dealers, a curator and philanthropist/collector.

Described as “The Monument Maker,” Mehretu’s large-scale abstract paintings reference topography and architecture. Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, she grew up in East Lansing, Mich., and is currently based in Harlem, New York.

According to Elle, Mehretu, 43, will participate in the first Cartagena, Colombia, biennial in February 2014. She plans to show the gray paintings the magazine reports are “currently taking shape in her studio.” Asked if the canvases will reference the city’s troubled history, Mehretu replies:

“I consider everything political…I don’t see how you can live socially without participating politically.” — Julie Mehretu

MICKALENE THOMAS

Deemed “The Visual Extrovert,” Brooklyn-based Thomas creates lavish works, explorations of female power, landscapes and interiors that are always punctuated with sparkle. Her late mother, a former model who suffered from sickle-cell anemia, inspires much of her work and is the subject of “Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman,” a short film Thomas created that will appear in an HBO documentary series.

Elle captures the essence of her practice:

“…[Mickalene] Thomas, now 42, became known for dazzling portraits of sensual African-American women in wildly patterned surroundings, their makeup and dresses encrusted with the artist’s signature rhinestones. Her paintings…are based on collages and photos that Thomas shoots, incorporating installations of the vintage furniture, rugs and textiles she’s been collecting.” — Elle magazine

Thomas intends to shine in Paris next fall. Her new paintings for an exhibition in the French capital will have a healthy dose of rhinestones and glitter, she says: “I am going all out.”

Books featuring the work of the three artists are among the most compelling recently published. “Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe” is the artist’s first monograph and a wonderful celebration of her vibrant, cultural explorations. A study of place, space and time executed primarily in a spectrum of grays, “Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared” accompanied her exhibition at White Cube in London last summer. And “Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video” is a hefty volume coinciding with the artist’s retrospective, the first major survey of her practice. CT

Elle Magazine, December 2013 | Top images: From left, Mickalene Thomas (Elle pg. 277 by Frederike Helwig), Julie Mehretu (pg. 274 by Frederike Helwig), Carrie Mae Weems (pg. 261, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York).