Julie Mehretu: Grey Area

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Mehretu, Atlantic Wall, 2008–09

May 14–October 6, 2010

The term “gray area” speaks to a condition of indeterminacy, a liminal state in which something is not clearly defined or perhaps impossible to define. Julie Mehretu (b. 1970, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) adapts such an enigmatic circumstance as a tool to engage the viewer in her complex compositions of meticulously drawn mechanical renderings, spontaneous gestural markings, and colorful interjections. The images seem to exist at a horizon where the work could either plunge into dense obscurity or nearly disappear into an ethereal cloud of dust. Yet a remarkable sense of pictorial space always exists in Mehretu’s paintings, created not just by their layering but also by the contrasts inherent in them. What appears abstract from afar is replete with detailed drawing when viewed up close. And just as one is able to glean some bit of information in order to identify a rendering, it vaporizes into an indefinability that compels the viewer to look again and again.

The paintings in this exhibition were produced as the 15th commission of Deutsche Bank and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Inspired in part by Berlin, the city in which Mehretu created the works, the paintings evoke the psychogeography of a place and the effects of the built environment on individuals, while at the same time contemplating the past and the surviving traces of lived history. Walking through Berlin, where one still encounters the vestiges of war, an American such as Mehretu might recall that such destruction is currently perpetrated in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. A society at war often does not think of the lasting effects of its actions, and to see memories preserved after decades of recovery is a poignant reminder. These paintings are imbued with the ghostly traces of past and current transformations in the urban landscape.

Julie Mehretu, Atlantic Wall, 2008–09. Ink and acrylic on canvas, 304.8 x 426.7 cm. Commissioned by Deutsche Bank in consultation with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation for the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin. © 2010 Julie Mehretu. Photo: Mathias Schormann

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