Nearly 20 years ago, the curator and collector Racquel Chevremont paid a visit to the artist Mickalene Thomas’s studio in her basement in Brooklyn. The meeting turned out to be life-changing, and at this point, the pair is so creatively close that they finish each other’s sentences—especially when discussing their endeavors with Deux Femmes Noires, which is all about giving a platform to lesser-known artists (particularly those who are women of color). And it’s working: Kennedy Yanko, an artist featured in their first co-curated show at Volta New York, for example, was the talk of this past Art Basel Miami Beach. The same will, no doubt, be true for any combination of the six artists featured in “Set It Off,” which will be on view on the grounds of the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, New York from May 22 to July 24. (Yanko is again a part of the exhibition, along with Leilah Babirye, Torkwase Dyson, February James, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, and Karyn Olivier.)
“Overall we have the same mission and we’ve had it for years, so that supersedes any sort of disagreement,” Chevremont says of the latest up-and-comers they’ve chosen to spotlight over a Zoom with Thomas in Brooklyn. “It’s important to give artists a platform, and female artists of color in particular. If we get the opportunity to give them space in an institution, you have to do it.”
They’re particularly excited about Dyson, whose practice Thomas describes as “thinking about spatial and architectural ideas within the context of the constructs of who she is, a Black body.” “There’s no one else out there,” Chevremont says, and Thomas jumps in: “making what she’s making right now and speaking about it in such an intelligent way.” Here, they share more about the meticulous list-keeping that goes into their process, how Thomas’s cameo in And Just Like That... came to be, and their Culture Diet.
How do you set about choosing the artists in the shows you co-curate?
Mickalene Thomas: We keep a list of artists that we know that we that we want to work with in some capacity at some point. It’s just a matter of what type of shows and how it all fits together with what we’re curating.
I’d love to see this list. How long is it?
Racquel Chevremont: It’s pretty long, and then we narrow it down with each opportunity.
MT: It changes, too.
RC: It’s almost a good thing when someone comes off the list, because that means they’ve been getting so much on their own that they don’t need what we’re able to provide for them. All of the artists we’re showing are showing in spaces, but to show them in a group, in this type of show—that doesn’t happen all the time. It’s rare that you get a show with your contemporaries, and where it’s all female-led and women of color on top of it.
Leilah Babirye, Nakatiiti form the Kuchu Grasshopper Clan, 2020. Wood, copper, nails, found objects. Courtesy of W.
Leilah Babirye, Omumbejja Nkinzi from the Kuchu Royal Family of Buganda, 2020. Wood, wax, aluminum, wire, nails, found objects.
Do you keep the list in a Google Doc?
RC: We’re old school. [Laughs.] It’s all packed in little notebooks.
MT: And we transcribe them when we fill up a notebook. [Laughs.]
RC: We’re constantly thinking, Wouldn’t it be great for this artist to be in conversation with this artist? We categorize the artists so that when the opportunity arises, we’re able to jump quickly.
Getting into the Culture Diet questions, what’s the first thing you read in the morning?
MT: Apple News, CNN, the New York Times, and The Atlantic.
RC: CNN and the New York Times’s review of what you need to know for the day.
What books are currently on your bedside tables?
MT: The Memory Librarian by Janelle Monáe. She sent it to me, which I’m very excited about. And the other I have is Happiness Becomes You by Tina Turner.
RC: I have some sort of Swedish mystery novel. I like the genre of murder and Swedish detective-type stuff; I have very light reading on my bedside table.
Have you been binging any TV shows?
MT: The Andy Warhol Diaries.
RC: That was incredible.
MT: I’m watching it again, just because I was trying to match up with the actual printed diary. And I’m excited for the third season of Legendary.
RC: I’m excited to watch the second season of Russian Doll. Oh, and Ozark—I just finished that.
Did either of you catch the reference to Mickalene in the scene where Charlotte sees LTW’s art collection in And Just Like That…, the Sex and the City reboot?
RC: I curated that!
MT: There’s a documentary about the behind the scenes and they do a nice little segment about how it all came together.
RC: With me acting crazy, speaking with my hands a lot. [Laughs.] I worked closely with the writer because it was really important to mention all the artists.
It’s interesting to me that you included a work by Mickalene when you’re clearly all about spotlighting lesser-known artists.
RC: Definitely with institutional shows, but with television shows and this particular television show, what the collectors were supposed to be like and collect, [it’s different]. And also, the television show thought it would be really funny if it opened up with a piece that I was in.
MT: A lot of what Racquel does on her own is curating for TV shows and films.
RC: I just finished doing the artwork for a new Mahershala Ali and Julia Roberts film [Sam Esmail’s Leave the World Behind], which is currently filming.
Well, you did a great job. That was one of my favorite scenes in the whole series, even though it was so cringe-y.
RC: It’s funny, I touched a lot of people with that scene for a lot of different reasons.
MT: And people are still writing about it. I just received something from one of my galleries that was in the Boston Globe. The article just came out April 24, and it talks about this particular scene in And Just Like That… The writing is quite interesting.
RC: And that’s what you want from the intersection of art and television. It should bring up these sort of conversations because the audience is vast. So if it opens up a conversation around art, that’s great. That’s the whole reason for putting art on shows.
Have you put Mickalene’s work in any other shows?
RC: There was another shout-out in Law & Order, and then the new The L Word and the new Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
February James, And Then The Spirits Came To Me With The Burden Of Truth, 2022. Liquid graphite and oil on canvas.
February James, Gonna Give You All I Got, All I have is yours, 2022. Charcoal, acrylic, oil stick, and oil on canvas.
Do you read your horoscope?
MT: She doesn’t, but I do. I bought the whole staff these fun horoscope cards for the holidays. I live by the horoscope. There are certain times when I think it’s fun to see if it aligns with anything in my life. Often, it does. And other times it’s like, what are they talking about?
RC: Every time I tell people what I am and they’re like, you’re so close to the cusp, what’s your rising?, I’m like, I have no clue.
What signs are you both?
RC: I’m a Cancer.
What’s the last art show you saw together?
RC: It was last night—Alexandria Smith at the Gagosian.
MT: She’s a friend of ours. It was great.
What about museum shows?
RC: One of the last ones was at the Hayward. It was all British painters based in or near London. The paintings were fantastic.
MT: We walked in and had no expectations and we were blown away.
RC: We made a bunch of discoveries, people we hadn’t heard of, like Lisa Brice and a couple of others. They went on the list.
Do you have any favorite artists to follow on Instagram?
RC: I’m not sure I want to answer that. We follow too many artists.
MT: One artist I didn’t know much about, and who I’m actually doing a jury with, is Jammie Holmes, He’s incredible. His work is about Black life in the South, and very brushy and expressive. A lot of it reminds me of Henry Taylor.
RC: In that same vein, there’s also Raelis Vasquez, a Dominican painter who paints about life in the Dominican Republic and his family.
Have you discovered any artists you went on to show on Instagram?
RC: No, we’re not big social media people.
MT: I know a lot of people use it as a platform, a vehicle to collect work, exhibit artists and scout them out, but that’s not something that we do. We like to read about the artists, or go to a show and see the work in person. There’s a filter on Instagram, so it’s difficult to see what that texture and dimensions are like. Sometimes it leads to disappointment when you see it in person.
RC: Or it looks way better in person than it does on a screen.
MT: Exactly. My work doesn’t photograph or translate well at all. People are always surprised when they see it—they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know it was so layered.”
Karyn Olivier, Bystanders, 2021. Inkjet pigment print on photo paper mounted on acrylic, asphalt/tar roofing.
Karyn Olivier, Parlatuvier (Expansion), 2021. Photo printed on aluminum, asphalt/tar roofing.
You both have great style. What’s the last clothing item you purchased?
RC: I got a really cool scuba dress from Alexander McQueen.
MT: Ooh, so it was that high end? Okay! That’s a purchase.
RC: I know, I know. I really fell in love with it. I saw it online and was like, that’s totally me. It’s a dress with pockets, and that makes me very happy.
MT: The last thing I purchased was this pair of very cool shoes from Bottega [Veneta] that are really thick and bright. I don’t normally wear bright color, so I like that they have this spark of fluorescent green.
What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?
RC: Lately—unfortunately—the last thing before bed is taking sleep gummies. I lay there and count from 100 backwards like I’m going under anesthesia to get them to work. The melatonin ones, by the way, not the cooler stuff. The cooler stuff would have been great, but I have to wake up in the morning and take kids to school.
MT: The last thing I did last night was make a list of some five-year, 10-year, and 20-year goals. I started making these lists of where I want to be and what I want to do. I didn’t finish all of it—I fell asleep and heard my computer fall. [Laughs.]
What’s one of the things on the 20-year list?
MT: To have a residency or foundation for artists. Not a lot of artists—just a space big enough to have two to three.