But of course, the popularities of current, living contemporary artists were rising and falling just out of sight of our undergrad attentions. By the time I made it to grad school in 2011, the most recent layer of the artistic canon was cooling and hardening like recently expelled lava.
Julie Mehretu was and remains a part of that canon, an artist whose accomplishments had been confirmed and appreciated. Hers was one of those names that everyone knew, which made her irrelevant in a strange way.
If you have spent time amongst nerds of any type, you will understand that knowledge of the obscure is the most valuable form of currency. To rise to the top of the nerd heap, you must discover and cherish the person, movement, or style that no one else knows about. The most commonly known artists are worth pennies, and certain artists were so well known that their names were hardly ever uttered.
Once you reach this level as an artist, grad students may cease arguing about you, but you do get Art21 episodes made about you. And you get several NY Times profiles written about you. That has happened recently with Julie Mehretu, and if you are just beginning to learn about her, don’t worry. There’s a couple good places to start.