Gen W: The Artist is Present

Photographer: Tom Munro Stylist: Patrick Mackie

Meet the stylish and intelligent women making the most thought-provoking art today. Click here to watch a video from the shoot.

Photographer: Tom Munro Stylist: Patrick Mackie

Among some of the most famous sculptures in Rome is the 18th-century statue of Saint Cecilia, which shows the young martyr at the time of her death, with three ax wounds visible on her neck. “It’s everything I love—incredibly beautiful and almost painful to look at,” says Rachel Feinstein, 41, whose latest work, on view in November at the ­Gagosian outpost in the Italian city, was inspired by the religious effigy. Having grown up in ­Miami in the eighties—with, as she puts it, its “weird combo of sailing lessons and drug cartels”—Feinstein believes that backdrop informed her fascination with both beauty and decay. At her wedding in 1997 to the painter John Currin, she recalls, she stood at the altar sobbing—not from sheer joy, “but because the moment was inching away from me.” These days, says the artist, pictured here with part of the set she created for Marc Jacobs’s fall 2012 show, “I feel like life is speeding by.” And despite her perennially ­elegant appearance on the art-party scene, Feinstein admits that her style is decidedly “rushed.” The last time she bought new clothes was three years ago, following the birth of her third child, Flora. “Thank God I’m friends with Marc [­Jacobs]. He literally takes pity on me and sends stuff over.”

Feinstein wears Marc Jacobs cashmere and faux-fur jacket, silk blouse, wool jacquard skirt, hat, stole, and shoes. Tabio socks.

Photographer: Tom Munro Stylist: Patrick Mackie

Through her satirical and overtly raunchy drawings, collages, cut-paper silhouettes, text pieces (below, in background), and shadow-puppet film animations, Kara Walker, 42, has depicted the racially charged nightmare of the antebellum South. “My work is troublesome,” she acknowledges. “That’s the point.” But while her subject matter comes readily to her as an artist, Walker has a ­tougher time when the subject on public view is herself. “What I want to project is a paradox: I am elegant, sure; angry, of course; cocky, sometimes; warm-hearted and socially conscious, sometimes; geeky, mostly; wicked, very; absurd, always,” Walker says. “If I could, I’d dress in a manner that reflected those contradictions without coming off as disjointed.” Though skeptical of the fashion world, Walker admits having a certain affection for its pageantry. Her mother was a designer who used to stage shows in the seventies in Walker’s hometown of Stockton, California. “I modeled in two of them and had the hiccups throughout the first one,” she recalls. Still, Walker, whose site-specific new work opens at the Art Institute of Chicago in February 2013, would rather that her art, alone, assume the spotlight. “I showed one of my films, Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale, in Aspen recently, and afterward the audience was silent—you could hear the crickets chirping,” she says. “And I thought, Yes! It worked! That’s why I can recede into the background.”

Walker wears Diane von Furstenberg cotton top, and gloves.

Photographer: Tom Munro Stylist: Patrick Mackie

Francesca DiMattio’s new house in upstate New York, where she lives part-time with her artist husband, Garth Weiser, is a study in contrasts: opulent ­Versace pillows sit on stark-white Eero Saarinen chairs; sunset-themed thrift store bedsheets mix with a colorful rug woven by children in Africa. “I approach all aspects of my life in the same way I approach my art,” says DiMattio, 31, who draws from sources as varied as fashion and ­design magazines, art history, and the furniture in her ­studio to create seemingly chaotic canvases that riff on perspective, scale, and architecture. Recently, DiMattio has expanded into ceramic sculptures, hand-painting them with everything from Ming-dynasty detailing to feminine ­florals. “I’m interested in what happens when you get different things and mangle them together,” says the artist, who has two shows opening this month: one at Sotheby’s S2 gallery in New York, the other at Pippy Houlds­worth Gallery in London. “Suddenly, something very French rococo looks like Grandma’s pitcher.” Not surprisingly, her personal style also incorporates oft-opposing elements: ­Designer shoes mix with Salvation Army dresses and tailored suits with crocheted tops—all topped with the braided updo she’s worn since high school. “I can’t tell you the variety of people my hairstyle speaks to,” she says. “German, Icelandic, African, ­Mexican…I think that’s what I like about it. It can go in so many different ways.”

Dimattio wears Tom Ford georgette gown with cape. Manolo Blahnik pumps.

Photographer: Tom Munro Stylist: Patrick Mackie

Miami-born Teresita Fernández grew up in a family of what she calls “makers,” who instilled in her an appreciation for craftsmanship as well as a formal sense of style. “My mother dressed up to take us to school,” says the artist, who in September 2011 was appointed by President Obama to serve on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. “I like that feeling of being put together. I don’t do casual well.” Fernández, 44, lives in Brooklyn with her two young children and still recalls the way her Cuban grandmother and great-aunts would close their eyes to feel fabric during her childhood shopping trips with them. “That connection between the visual and tactile is so much of what my work is about,” she says. Indeed, Fernández’s sculptures have a way of seducing the viewer and arousing the senses. “Night Writing,” her current show at New York’s Lehmann Maupin gallery (through October 20), features a series of large-scale prints (left, in background) that evoke the brilliance of beholding the northern lights. The mirrored braille patterns covering the works make them appear to be in a constant kinetic state. “It’s a dynamic thing,” Fernández says. “By looking at it, you set it in motion.”

Fernandez wears Isabel Toledo lace dress. Lorenz Baumer earrings; Tabitha Simmons sandals. Makeup by maud laceppe for nars cosmetics at streeters. dimattio and fernandez hair by Miki at Tim Howard management.

Photographer: Tom Munro Stylist: Patrick Mackie

“My work reflects on our postindustrial consumer society,” says Josephine Meckseper. “It’s a window into our time, an archeology of the present.” To that end, the German-born artist examines the link between politics and capitalist culture—in videos, photographs, installations, and restagings of beauty ads. Where her slick vitrines filled with lacy lingerie and chrome car rims point to our fetishization of objects, the two life-size oil pumps that she built and in March installed near Times Square—“the epicenter of American entertainment propaganda,” as she puts it—suggest that we’re a society defined by our control of natural resources. Not surprisingly, Meckseper, 47, likewise views fashion as a mirror of a moment, rather than as a mode of self-expression. “Time is really the greatest stylist,” says the artist, whose next New York solo show opens at ­Andrea Rosen gallery in February 2013. Meckseper’s own minimalist look is composed mostly of dark jeans and sharp jackets given to her by designer friends like Cynthia Rowley and Johan Lindeberg. But she’d ideally like to sport something even more unassuming: “My father, who is also an artist, used to have blue factory suits custom-tailored to wear in the studio,” she says. “I wouldn’t mind a uniform for myself.”

Meckseper wears Burberry London satin jacket. Donna KaraN New York viscose blend bodysuit. Thom Browne new york silk cage skirt. Prabal Gurung gloves; Dolce & Gabbana briefs; Tom Ford pumps.

Feinstein and Meckseper hair by Ward at Bryan Bantry Agency. Set Design by Lou Asaro.

Manicures by Dawn Sterling fFor Dior Vernis at Starworks Artists. Photography Assistants: Xavier Muniz, Yvonne Allaway, Jun Ho Yang. Digital Technician: James Needham. Fashion Assistants: David Thompson And Kyla Weinman