Mehretu is celebrated for her large-scale paintings and drawings that layer abstract forms with familiar architectural imagery. Inspired by a multitude of sources, including historical photographs, urban-planning grids, modernism, and graffiti, these semiabstract works explore the intersections of power, history, dystopia, and the built environment and their impact on the formation of personal and transcommunal identities.
For the Deutsche Guggenheim commission, Mehretu established a studio in Berlin where she has produced a remarkable suite of paintings that deal with erasure, decay, and liminality. Here one finds the architectural under-layer erased as if in a modernist gesture, leaving canvases that seem to shiver in an indeterminate state. Asking what it means to be an American artist in Germany during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars of the Bush years, Mehretu’s canvases meditate on the idea of the modern ruin. In his essay titled “An Archaeology of the Air,” which will appear in the exhibition catalogue, critic Brian Dillon writes:
“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. There is a new grayness and indeterminacy in these paintings that it would be trite to conclude is merely melancholy or phantomic: Mehretu’s grey is rather the color of possibility, of the inchoate and unrealized. In this sense, the ruin points no longer towards the recent past but towards a potential future; the ruin passes away and comes into being at the same time.”
The commission is scheduled to travel to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 2010 and is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue that provides unique insight into the artist’s intellectual and creative process in developing this body of work.
Julie Mehretu: Grey Area