Julie Mehretu at Guggenheim Museum

Julie Mehretu: Grey Area
Guggenheim Museum
May 14 – October 6, 2010

Julie Mehretu
Julie Mehretu: Grey Area, an exhibition of six new large-scale paintings by American artist Julie Mehretu, is presented at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum as part of the Deutsche Bank Series at the Guggenheim, May 14 to October 6, 2010. Commissioned in 2007 by Deutsche Bank and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, the suite of semiabstract works is inspired by a multitude of sources, including historical photographs, urban planning grids, modern art, and graffiti, and explores the intersections of power, history, dystopia, and the built environment, along with their impact on the formation of personal and communal identities.

Julie Mehretu: Grey Area is organized by Joan Young, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art and Manager of Curatorial Affairs, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Julie Mehretu: Grey Area is made possible by Deutsche Bank.

The Leadership Committee for Julie Mehretu: Grey Area is gratefully acknowledged.

Berlin plays a significant role in the investigation of memory and the urban experience in the Grey Area suite, first conceived during a residency by Mehretu at the American Academy in Berlin in 2007. During this residency, the artist was struck by the continuously shifting profile of Berlin, a historically charged city where vestiges of war coexist with new architectural development. For Mehretu, the visible evidence of destruction and recovery on the facades and streetscapes of Berlin also conjures the physical aftermath of war around the world, as in the paintings Believer’s Palace (2008–09), which references the partially destroyed palace that sat atop Saddam Hussein’s Baghdad bunker, and Atlantic Wall (2008–09), which renders the interiors of bunkers built by Germany along the Western European coastline during World War II.

According to Joan Young, “Julie Mehretu adapts enigmatic circumstances as a tool to engage the viewer in her complex compositions of meticulously drawn mechanical renderings, spontaneous gestural markings, and colorful interjections. Whether capturing specific settings or the general tenor of the urban experience, such as in Berliner Plätze (2008–09) and Fragment (2008–09), respectively, Mehretu’s paintings evoke the psychogeography of the city and the effects of the built environment on individuals while at the same time contemplating the past and the surviving traces of lived history.”

Approximately 10 x 14 feet in size, Mehretu’s paintings are characterized by a remarkable sense of pictorial space. Using ink and acrylic paint, she layers detailed schematic depictions of buildings and cityscapes with abstracted forms and lines, playing with the depth of the composition. Through this layering, combined with the use of erasure and the smudging of gestural marks, structures seem to dissolve on the surface of the canvas. Yet as author and critic Brian Dillon writes in his catalogue essay, “An Archaeology of the Air,” “The moments of articulate erasure in the paintings amount to a kind of restoration: of openness, contingency, and potential at the level both of the painted mark or character and the underlying architectural motif. If there is an archaeology of the recent past in Mehretu’s work, it is the archaeology of an atmosphere charged with the dust of demolition and rebuilding.”

Julie Mehretu
Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1970, Mehretu was raised in Michigan. She studied at Kalamazoo College in Michigan (BA, 1992) and at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar in Dakar, Senegal (1990–91). She received an MFA in painting and printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1997. Mehretu has participated in numerous international exhibitions and biennials and has received international recognition for her work, including, in 2005, the American Art Award from the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the prestigious MacArthur Fellow award. She has had residencies at the Core Program at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (1998–99), the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2001), the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota (2003), and the American Academy in Berlin (2007). Mehretu currently lives and works in New York and Berlin.

Guggenheim Museum