100 Artists: Julie Mehretu

100 Artists is a yearlong celebration of the 100 artists who have appeared to date in Art21′s award-winning film series Art in the Twenty-First Century. Throughout 2013, we are dedicating two to three days to each artist on our social media platforms—Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and here on the Art21 Blog. Our current featured artist is Julie Mehretu.

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Julie Mehretu. “Beloved (Cairo),” 2013. Ink on acrylic on canvas. 10 x 24 ft. Installed at Marian Goodman Gallery in “Liminal Squared,” 2013. Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery.

Liminal Squared, a major solo exhibition by Julie Mehretu, is on view at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York. Featured are new large-scale paintings and a group of smaller etchings, many of them bearing Mehretu’s signature sea of marks, erasures, smudges, and architectural tracings.

On the occasion of this show, Art21 has released a previously unpublished interview with the artist. Conducted in Mehretu’s Berlin studio in October 2008, she discusses her process and how several different references might be embedded in just one of her paintings. Here’s an excerpt:

Art21: How much does the viewer need to know? How much of the underpinnings do you wish to reveal?

Julie Mehretu: There are different types of information that go into the picture, depending on the painting, and especially in the work now. In certain paintings that information is very readable and it’s just pure geometry—geometric shapes that mimic architecture. So you look at the structure and you can’t really define anything, but you know that it’s really just created out of geometric shapes. Then there’s other work in which I incorporate a lot of specific architectural plans. As the works progress, the more the information is layered in a way that’s hard to decipher what is what. And that’s intentional. It’s almost like a screening out, creating a kind of skin or layer of just this information that we recognize. So if a building is from Baghdad or New York or Cairo is not so important. I don’t necessarily reveal which building is from which place. It’s more that this information is part of the DNA (that’s how I keep thinking about it) of the painting—part of the ancestral makeup of what it is and the information that informs your understanding or your vision of it.

I’m attracted to images, different types of images, and usually that’s because of what’s going on in the world. And because I used to work with this information more directly, I think I’ve become much more well-versed in the language of architecture. So all of that comes into the work in different ways, but I don’t really spell out exactly that this is, for example, an image from Baghdad. This painting is not a description. I want the work to be felt as much as read.

Read the entire interview here.

Liminal Squared continues through June 22, 2013. See more images from the exhibition after the jump.

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Julie Mehretu. “Chimera,” 2013. Ink and acrylic on canvas. 96 x 144 in. Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery.

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“Liminal Squared” installation, 2013. Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery.

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Julie Mehretu. “Fever graph (algorithm for serendipity),” 2013. Graphite, ink and acrylic on canvas. 96 x 120 in. Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery.

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Julie Mehretu. “The Round City (Hatshepsut),” 2013. Graphite, ink and acrylic on canvas. 96 x 132 in. Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery.


Julie Mehretu was featured in Season 5 of Art in the Twenty-First Century; watch her segment at Art21.org.