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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
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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 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.