"There are a lot of decisions I have made conceptually before I start to paint. I've done research about what is going to go in the painting in terms of architectural information, color, narrative, concept and other stuff and then there is the development of the drawing in the painting. Painting, the making of it, is just a much more complex process, whereas the process of making a drawing is a fresh take; it's a very immediate thing. " Julie Mehretu





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Julie Mehretu, Atlantic Wall, 2008–09. Ink and acrylic on canvas, 304.8 x 426.7 cm.

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"Middle Grey", 2007-2009, Ink and acrylic on canvas,10' x 14'.



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Julie Mehretu, Fragment, 2008-2009

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Julie Mehretu, Believer's Palace, 2008-2009


Mehretu is an Ethiopian-born American artist based in New York. Ms. Mehretu’s paintings are about the expression of power through architecture. ‘Grey Area’ is a group of seven paintings – all more than four metres wide and three metres high – begun during Mehretu’s residency at the American Academy in Berlin in 2007. On the surface, at least, Berlin is the main source of inspiration for the new paintings. In some ways, it’s the perfect place for her: with modern buildings rising around zones of emptiness and ruin, Berlin fulfills both her Romantic and Constructivist inclinations. It is the latest instalment in a series at the Deutsche Guggenheim in which the art is initially commissioned by Deutsche Bank. The series has fallen into a predictable pattern: an artist is selected who is established enough to present few risks, and put in a financial position to develop a body of work that enlarges and sanctifies the gestures for which they are already well known. The big becomes reliably bigger. Almost all of the works presented in “Grey Area” are associated with a particular cityscape. “Atlantic Wall” draws from the interiors of WWII German trenches along Europe’s Atlantic coastline, and photographs from pre-war Berlin informed “Berliner Plätze”, to name a few. The paintings in “Grey Area” reflect Berlin’s ever-changing cityscape and, to a certain extent, scenes of damage from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ms. Mehretu’s style is evolving, the Guggenheim paintings have more and more drawing in them: precise outlines of building facades, streaky Twombly-esque scrawls and flocked squiggles that recall Chinese calligraphy or the mescaline experiments of Henri Michaux. Most of these elements appear elsewhere in her work, but they’re usually accompanied by brightly hued geometric forms — as they are in her mural for Goldman. In “Grey Area,” color is muted when it’s there at all.The bottom layer of “Atlantic Wall” is a pinkish-green flush, made opalescent by coats of clear acrylic. And the predominant shade in “Middle Grey” is a steely blue, with touches of eggplant. The other four paintings are nearly monochromatic: black and white, with faint lines of pink or orange running through the background. Photographs in the catalog show Ms. Mehretu and her assistants working with rulers and other drafting tools, on paintings surrounded with ladders and scaffolding: the painter as architect. In “Berliner Platze” she superimposes one street view on top of another, all of them traced from projections with a rigid hand. In the show’s best paintings, though, she swings the wrecking ball. “Believer’s Palace” and “Fragment” find Ms. Mehretu wiping away portions of her underdrawings, or repeatedly stabbing at them with a small brush dipped in sumi ink.“Believer’s Palace” takes its title, and some of its imagery, from the once-opulent building that concealed Saddam Hussein’s underground command center in Baghdad. At the same time, its twisted columns and ashy acrylic clouds recall a decimated Lower Manhattan.Included among Ms. Mehretu’s photographic sources, in the catalog, is an aerial image of the World Trade Center site after the 9/11 attacks. On the same page is a photograph of the bombed United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, as well as one of run-down buildings in Detroit not far from where Ms. Mehretu grew up.
(Marisa Dycus)

Bibliography

Monreau, Kristen. "Julie Mehretu at the Guggenheim | JAQK." JAQK. N.p., 16 June 2010. Web. 4 May 2011. <http://jaqk.co/archives/1542>.

"New Works by Julie Mehretu on View at the Guggenheim." MuseumPublicity.com Museum Publicity Announcements News and Information. N.p., 14 May 2010. Web. 3 May 2011. <http://museumpublicity.com/2010/05/14/new-works-by-julie-mehretu-on-view-at-the-guggenheim/>.

Prince, Mark. "Frieze Magazine | Archive | Julie Mehretu." Frieze. N.p., 2 Sept. 2010. Web. 4 May 2011. <http://www.frieze.com/issue/print_back/julie_mehretu/>.

Rosenburg, Karen. "Painter as Architect, Swinging a Wrecking Ball." Art & Design. The New York Times Company, 20 May 2010. Web. 3 May 2011. <www.nytimes.com/2010/05/21