Julie Mehretu - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 13, 2014 | Phillips
  • Video

    JULIE MEHRETU 'Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence)', 2004

    "Mehretu's works are truly representative of our time. Within them there's a high degree of order, linearity and control but at the same time a tremendous amount of chaos - a sense of a lack of center, a lack of beginning or end. A mirror held up toward contemporary culture." Contemporary Art specialist Benjamin Godsill discusses Mehretu's 'Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence)', 2004 from our 13 November Evening Sale.

  • Provenance

    Carlier Gebauer, Berlin
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    León, MUSAC, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, Julie Mehretu, Black City, September 23, 2006 - January 7, 2007, then traveled to Hannover, Kunstverein Hannover (February 9 - April 1, 2007),
    Humelbæk, Louisiana Museum für Moderne Kunst (June 1 - August 26, 2007)

  • Literature

    Julie Mehretu, Black City, exh. cat., Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, León, 2006, pp. 112 - 113 (illustrated)
    "Julie Mehretu: Grey Area, Commission for the Deutsche Guggenheim,"Deutsche Guggenheim Magazine, Issue 9, Fall 2009, p. 9 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "I’m not trying to spell out a story. I still think you feel the painting, and the reason you read the mark is because you also feel the mark." Julie Mehretu, 2009

    Julie Mehretu’s masterwork Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence) is one in which painting and viewer are united through pure energy and kinetic force. As one stands before the painting, we are left simply marveling at its splendor. Inundated with variously sized shapes which punctuate frenzied and rigid lines, ablaze with bold colors against a lavender background, Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence) announces itself triumphantly in its powerful imagery. Mehretu is celebrated for her immense canvases deluged in questions of contemporary culture and for her expert handling of media. The abstraction of the work can feel at times jarring when our immediate reaction may be to create and then discover a sense of order in the work, and yet Mehretu asks us not to grasp for understanding and meaning at first encounter. Rather, she simply presents the work, challenging us with its insoluble questions and bewitching us into the fantastical world which she has created.

    In her microcosm of lexicons, symbols and language, she designs a structure that has been carefully analyzed and yet occurs in an intangible lack of place - a blank topography. When considered through the lens of its production, the work abruptly becomes a singular and perilous moment, operating at a critical intersection of language, culture, symbolism, architecture, and politics. The present lot may arguably be considered the extraordinary apex of Mehretu’s compelling body of works that have utterly cemented her as an authoritative force in the history of art.

    Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence) is drawn from a small series of works Mehretu painted in 2004 and her analysis of such relevant motifs of nationalism and insurgency through the spheres of politics, sports, and art. This kinetic work of art represents a herculean effort on the part of the artist to produce a dense amalgamation of geometric shapes and organic forms, at once an aimless explosion of kaleidoscopic color and elegantly contrived in astonishing exactitude. The ultimate composition perfectly captures the unbounded vitality and the chaotic atmosphere in our contemporary global culture. While her cultural themes are critical points of departure for the work, there exist clear and seamless allusions to her art historical forerunners. Notably, the warm orange diamonds and the black quadrilateral reverently nods to the Bauhaus and the Russian constructivist movements of the early twentieth century, and to its champions such as Alexandr Kasmir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky who devised the notion of abstraction as a method to propagate universalism and collectivity. Mehretu once elaborated, “I am (...) interested in what Kandinsky referred to in ‘The Great Utopia’ when he talked about the inevitable implosion and/or explosion of our constructed spaces out of the sheer necessity of agency. So, for me, the coliseum, the amphitheater, and the stadium are perfect metaphoric constructed spaces.” (Julie Mehretu, “Looking Back: Email Interview between Julie Mehretu and Olukemi Ilesanmi, April 2003” in Drawing into Painting, Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2003: 13-14).

    These ideals of Utopian abstraction are tempered by the lush, cloud-like puffs of black ink, as drawn from Chinese calligraphy—perhaps the ideal tool to engender the impression of explosion she so seeks. Yet despite these different and significant influences, Mehretu’s pictorial language is fundamentally her own: “Even though I collect and work with images in the studio they don’t enter the work directly. Instead I’m trying to create my own language… Abstraction in that way allows for all those various places to find expression.” (Julie Mehretu, BOMB magazine Artists in Conversation, by Lawrence Chua).

    The breathtakingly dynamic composition of Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence) demands a dissection. The hundreds of marks which curve, bustle, and ultimately unite in foreground and background of Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence) seem to be bound with a purpose that drives them so effectively. These lines are contextualized by the delicate blueprint of a structure, massive and circular, which transform into a language of architecture allowing the various components to communicate with one another. When we utilize the Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence), along with the colorful signifiers of flags and other icons, the work broadly maps our collective experiences in an arena-like environment. Through connecting her many symbols, the lines become a kind of crowd, driving towards not the individual directions of each line and each shape but toward a greater and more powerful event of change.

    The audacious display of brushwork alongside these magnificently executed lines delivers a tour de force of technical dexterity. The brightly colored shapes, progressively arranged in patterned triangles, repetitious stars, globular circles, and thinly stretched parallelograms, dance across the upper register of the work and suggest the individual elements of any nation’s flag, detached and re-appropriated into a kind of universal emblem. Abstraction gives Mehretu an approach to illuminate the indescribable and allows her to represent the difficult conditions. Simply, architectural spaces, such as a stadium as inferred in the present lot, furnish a setting in which diverse people proudly celebrate their home and their team. Yet it is precisely this nationalist pride and overzealous spectacle that Mehretu unpacks as a potentially dangerous and deadly force in our increasingly fragile post-war world.

    The overall impression of the present lot is one of immeasurable stamina and frenetic energy: an electrifying visceral struggle which concurrently enraptures and disconcerts. Underlying and structuring the entire canvas is the delineated stadium from dozens of visual perspectives and angles simultaneously. As our eye travels throughout the work, the linearity leads to dead ends and suddenly we are confronted with the very real possibility that the construction is falling apart to sheer ruins. The battle between our expectations and Mehretu’s “reality” come unhinged and we are forced to reconcile the stadium as an incoherent, disjointed subject, or lack thereof. If but for a moment, it feels as though the canvas itself is swallowing the stadium in a futile endeavor to support the structure only to decompose it. Mehretu’s consummate talent in creating this visual conflict is best elucidated through her own declaration: “The most interesting things that can happen in painting are not what you can plan in advance but what happens when you’re making them. It breaks down all the preconceptions of what you think you have.” (Julie Mehretu, BOMB magazine Artists in Conversation, by Lawrence Chua).

    Because Mehretu slowly builds her work from multiple bands of forms and lines, the components in Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence) appear to be hanging in the balance between facades, and are tangled in a churning motion around the axis of her canvas. This sweeping movement highlights the mobilizing of bodies within and among spaces while recognizing the booming speeds at which our technology and increasingly our culture moves. While it is important to concede that the work can be quite disorienting, Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence) is a shelter, a quiet moment for the viewer to ponder the potentiality and significance of this interconnectedness. The layering, mapping and logic within Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence) describe a relevant evolving perspective and imperative response to an ever-changing and fickle world. Mehretu describes, “The characters keep evolving and changing through the painting. But I think… I have been able to take this language that I’ve been developing, in all its many parts, and really bring it to a head, almost like a crescendo.” (ibid) Indeed, Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence) can be considered the apex of her mastery over all of the moving parts involved in the execution of such an ambitious project.

    Though Mehretu’s iconic Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence) is bursting with tonal hues of color and energetic lines, the dark facts buried within its layers present a disheartening picture of how we digest tragedy as a nation. In the wake of the September 11th attacks and the start of the war in Iraq, the chaos, frustration, and heartbreak was deeply felt in not only every American household, but also in nearly every corner of the world. The pain of the United States festered into a hateful war that tore apart communities and nearly brought a nation to its knees. Mehretu reflected: “That’s reductive, I know, but it was interesting because you could feel a nationalist sensibility in the responses to the war, even in the dissenting perspective... Here was this horrible situation happening and the reactive way each country was relating to it was as if it was a rugby match, as if we weren’t all in it together.” (ibid)

    The discussion of the war was narrated in the media as though the battle was happening in an arena, a kind of space that became a global spectacle and forced its spectators to choose their loyalties to a single side, or a team, if you will. “In the stadia paintings there seems like there’s this big event occurring that’s very orderly and makes a lot of sense, that there will be an outcome that we can either cheer or oppose, but that doesn’t really happen in the painting.” (ibid) The shortfall of a resolution in Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence) mirrors the similar consequence in the war, as it still dredges on in our reality and our history, and it is this total failure of reason or answer that elicits such a deeply-felt emotional response to the work.


Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence)

ink, acrylic on canvas, laid over wood panel
36 x 47 in. (91.4 x 119.4 cm)

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for $1,205,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 13 November 2014 7pm