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Julie Mehretu in "Systems"

“Trying to figure out who I am and my work is trying to understand systems,” says Julie Mehretu, shown working with her assistants in Berlin on seven large canvases for a show at Deutsche Guggenheim. “The thing that keeps me going is the painting,” she says, “and in getting lost in doing that a language is invented.”

Mehretu’s abstract compositions reference modernist architecture, Google Maps, Coliseum-like buildings, and defaced structures. Mehretu is also shown working on the biggest project of her young career: a 21 by 85 foot long mural commissioned by a major financial institution in Lower Manhattan, to be completed during the most severe financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Characterizing the task before her as “absurd,” she wonders “can you actually make a picture…of the history of capitalist development?”

More information and credits


Created by: Susan Sollins & Susan Dowling. Executive Producer & Curator: Susan Sollins. Series Producer: Eve-Laure Moros Ortega. Associate Producer: Migs Wright. Associate Curator: Wesley Miller. Production Manager: Nick Ravich. Production Coordinator: Larissa Nikola-Lisa. Consulting Director: Charles Atlas. Editor: Lizzie Donahue. Director of Photography: Robert Elfstrom, Ian Serfontein, Joel Shapiro, Martial Barrault, Richard Kane, & Richard Numeroff. Additional Photography: Sam Henriques & Bryan Hithe. Sound: Tom Bergin, Ray Day, Roger Phenix, Paul Stadden, & Merce Williams. Assistant Camera: Clair Popkin, Michael Pruitt-Bruun, Jean-Pierre Vial, Kenny Weinberg, & James Weinheimer. Field Producer: Mariana Valdrighi Amaral. On Screen Interviews: Sarah Rentz, Harmony Murphy, Erika Fortner, Damien Young, Jessica Rankin, Brienne Arrington, Analia Saban, Larry Little, & Horace Varnum.

Creative Consultant: Ed Sherin. Art Direction & Design: Open, New York. Graphics Animation: Maurice Caicedo & Urosh Perishic. On-Line Editor: Don Wyllie. Composer: Peter Foley. Voice-Over Artist: Jace Alexander. Sound Editing: Margaret Crimmins & Greg Smith. Sound Mix: Cory Melious. Artwork Animation: Frank Ferrigno. Assistant Editor: Ahmed Amer, Janine Cappadona, Paulo Padilha, Joaquin Perez, Leana Siochi, & Ken Yapelli.

Artworks Courtesy of: John Baldessari; Kimsooja; Allan McCollum; Julie Mehretu; Electronic Arts Intermix; Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York; Kunstmuseen Krefeld, Museum Haus Lange, Germany; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York; & The Project, New York. Archival Footage Courtesy of: Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels; Agustina Covian; Kimsooja Studio, New York; Thaddeus Seymour & Polly Seymour Gnagy.

Special Thanks: 601Artspace, New York; Akademie der Künste, Berlin; Gert-Jan Akerboom; Vera Alemani; The Art21 Board of Trustees; ARTASIA; Artful Heirlooms; Michael Ashburn; Aunt Holly’s Copper Cookie Cutters; Catherine Belloy; Bienal de São Paulo; Pat Casteel and Steve Wylie; Colby Bird; Kajette Bloomfield; Paul Brewer; Travis Call; Karla Braun; Jacob Cohen; Ralph Cuccurullo; Phil Curtis; Janna de Haen; Dog Bark Sound; Melissa Dubbin; Eike Dürrfeld; Frame:Runner, NYC; Rashell George; Claudia Gerhaeusser; Cormac Graham; Dr. Martin Hentschel; David Howe; Carl Johns; Anna Elise Johnson; Annice Kessler; Eric Kuhl; Holly Little; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); Sheila Lynch; Roland Moreau; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; Muriel Nestler; Ana Otero; Celina Paiz; Marcie Paper; Laura Piasta; Tracy Powell; Prospect.1 New Orleans; Anthony Reach; Inken Reinert; Repeat Impressions; Allie Rex; Andre Ribuoli; Adele Röder; Penelope Santana; Anette Schmitt; Larry Schmitt; Susan Schneider; Karen Schoellkopf; Kim Schoenstadt; Claire Schulte-Heuthaus; Keith Shapiro; Sound Lounge; Felipe Taboada; Charlotte Uslar; Noella Varnum; Amanda Vietta; Jacopo Crivelli Visconti; Tony Volante; Mechthild Von Laue; & Viola A. Yesiltaç.

Additional Art21 Staff: Beth Allen, Mary Cook, Joe Fusaro, Jessica Hamlin, Jennifer H. Lee, Marc Mayer, Jonathan Munar, Katherine Payne, Kelly Shindler, & Sara Simonson.

Interns: Maggie Bordonaro, Krystle DeMauro, Natalia P. Good, Sophie Grant, Pinchang Huang, Joy Lai, Rachele Lam, Jamie Leonardi, Melanie K. Mambo, Pauli Ochi, Sara Odam, David Roesing, Nicole Ross, Nicole Sansone, & Julia Wright.

Public Relations: Goodman Media International. Station Relations: De Shields Associates, Inc. Legal Counsel: Albert Gottesman. Bookkeeper: Valerie Riley. Travel Agent: Lita Gottesman.

Major underwriting for Season 5 of Art in the Twenty-First Century is provided by National Endowment for the Arts, PBS, Agnes Gund, Bloomberg, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Broad Art Foundation, Korea Foundation, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Julie Mehretu

Julie Mehretu’s paintings and drawings refer to elements of mapping and architecture, achieving a calligraphic complexity that resembles turbulent atmospheres and dense social networks. Architectural renderings and aerial views of urban grids enter the work as fragments, losing their real-world specificity and challenging narrow geographic and cultural readings. The paintings’ wax-like surfaces—built up over weeks and months in thin translucent layers—have a luminous warmth and spatial depth. Her works engage the history of nonobjective art—from Constructivism to Futurism—posing contemporary questions about the relationship between utopian impulses and abstraction.

“Trying to figure out who I am and my work is trying to understand systems…”

Julie Mehretu

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To Be Felt as Much as Read

Julie Mehretu discusses her process of layering and erasing and the different references embodied in any one of her large-scale paintings. This interview was conducted in October 2008, when Mehretu was preparing a new body of work commissioned by Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, Germany.