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  • Provenance

    White Cube, London

  • Exhibited

    London, White Cube, Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared, 1 May – 7 July 2013

  • Literature

    exh. cat., Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared, New York and London: Marian Goodman Gallery/White Cube, 2013,pp.95, 96 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    'Right now it just feels like this big knot of all these different tendencies. It’s coming out in my drawings a lot; they look like these nests or gnarled webs. Space is deflated and conflated. I’m still trying to understand it myself.’


    - JULIE MEHRETU, 2005


    The scope of Julie Mehretu’s work is vast in every sense. She builds layer upon layer of over- and under-drawing, creating impossibly complex palimpsests of gestural mark and architectural structure. Often geopolitical in scope, her canvases can seem overwhelming, even chaotic in their dynamism, yet they maintain an awe-inspiring coherence of composition - in 2010, she completed an eighty-foot mural for the Manhattan lobby of Goldman Sachs.

    Taking cues from the swirling abstraction of Italian Futurism as well as the shapes of Kandinsky, Mehretu’s restless multiple exposures reflect the displacements of her own narrative: born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1970, as a child she and her family fled revolution, immigrating to Alabama and later moving to Michigan. Her art typically features an architectonic lattice of posts, lintels, arches, and even entire (and politically loaded) actual buildings, such as her Mogamma works on Tahrir Square. These frameworks are obscured and enhanced by the ensuing depths of abstract marks made in ink and paint, each successive layer separated by a sanded solution of silica and acrylic, window upon window creating a deeply embedded sense of growth and history.

    As T.J. Demos notes, there is something overpowering in the hugely fragmented plethora of scenes and referents that the paintings recall, their very surface being made the site of rebellion. ‘As a kind of geopolitical echo chamber of repetition and transmutation, the structurings call up various historical episodes, geographical contexts, and scenes of past revolutions and uprisings, but the relationship they propose between the elements remains unstable and uncertain. The paintings, consequently, render their viewing points similarly compound – even structurally impossible – always incomplete when viewed from any single location. Rather than possessed of modernist presentness, the whole of each painting is simply too perceptually expansive to register at once, or even after sustained periods of attention. As such, Mehretu’s is a modelling of painting that challenges the limits of apprehension – spatially and historically – and thus defies the master (or colonial) gaze.’ (T.J. Demos, ‘Painting and Uprising: Julie Mehretu’s Third Space’ in Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared, exh. cat. White Cube, London, 2013, p.57).

    Here, abstraction and representation churn violently with one another on the canvas, each seemingly vying for our assessment. As is typical of Mehretu’s recent works, Invisible Sun (algorithm 2) threatens to destabilise, overcome by its own textural accretions of ink and acrylic. More reminiscent of a beleaguered field of pylons than of an urban environment, architectural girdering is absent: sharp vectors of pink and orange cut across like wires beneath a forest of energetic black marks that flock together, cohering and dancing like a cloud of starlings.

    Despite the depths of history that rear up in her compositions, Mehretu aims to depict a condition that is vitally contemporary and unique to the 21st century. ‘Of course it sounds naïve, but before the Bush Administration and September 11, there was this underlying feeling that the world was progressing in a particular way and different cities were developing and morphing into this kind of unified pseudo-capitalist dream, or something. It was easy to go back to certain utopian ideas about the way that things could develop, even though it was obvious that there were so many obstacles, intense violence, and injustices, that this was not a true reality: the American economy being so huge and doing so well, the development of the EU, the rapid growth of the Chinese economy, the quickly changing economy and development of India, the democratization of Nigeria, air flights going back and forth everywhere. That false perspective and weird hope just was crushed in the last few years. The way the US has responded, especially with the war in Iraq, has put the world into a different place. I’m not so interested right now in tying Lagos and New York into a morphed experience without bringing this new and different context into the mix. Right now it just feels like this big knot of all these different tendencies. It’s coming out in my drawings a lot; they look like these nests or gnarled webs. Space is deflated and conflated. I’m still trying to understand it myself.’ (Julie Mehretu interviewed by Lawrence Chua, Bomb Magazine 91, Spring 2005).

    A triumphant clarity of vision thrives amidst all these tangles, knots, nets and networks: rather than erasing, the artist’s penetrating gaze encompasses the difficult, embracing and comprehending hyper-informational modernity. Mehretu’s vast stadia of articulate space and structure reward infinite exploration. While challenging misplaced idealism, her abstracted vision offers an inviting and absorbing map to our reality.

21

Invisible Sun (algorithm 2)

2013
ink, acrylic on canvas
306 x 424.8 cm (120 1/2 x 167 1/4 in.)

Estimate
£700,000 - 900,000 

Sold for £902,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
[email protected]
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 12 February 2015 7pm