Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and based in Harlem, New York, Julie Mehretu (b. 1970) is best known for abstract paintings layered with a variety of mediums, marks, and meanings. These canvases and works on paper reference the histories of art, architecture, and past civilizations while addressing the most immediate conditions of our contemporary moment, including migration, revolution, climate change, global capitalism, and technology.
This midcareer survey features more than 75 drawings, paintings, and prints made from 1996 to the present. It covers a broad arc of Mehretu’s artistic evolution, revealing her early focus on drawing, graphics, and mapping and her more recent introduction of bold gestures, sweeps of saturated color, and figurative elements into her immersive, large-scale works.
Mehretu’s paintings begin with drawing; she then develops the works by incorporating techniques such as printing, digital collage, erasure, and painterly abstraction. She is inspired by a variety of sources, from cave paintings, cartography, Chinese calligraphy, and 17th-century landscape etchings to architectural renderings, graffiti, and news photography. Drawing on this vast archive, Mehretu explores how realities of the past and present can shape human consciousness. As the artist says, her visual language represents how “history is made: one layer on top of another, erasing itself, consuming itself, inventing something else from the same thing.”
Julie Mehretu is co-organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Curators: Christine Y. Kim, associate curator of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; with Rujeko Hockley, assistant curator, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. The Walker’s presentation is coordinated by Siri Engberg, senior curator, Visual Arts.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art: November 3, 2019–May 17, 2020
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York: June 26–September 20, 2020
High Museum of Art, Atlanta: October 24, 2020–January 31, 2021
Walker Art Center: March 14–July 11, 2021