Art21 Extended Play

Julie Mehretu: Studio Assistants


Episode #097: Filmed in her Berlin studio, a group of Julie Mehretu’s assistants — Sarah Rentz, Damien Young, Erika Fortner and Harmony Murphy — discuss how they each bring different areas of expertise to the process of making paintings, from fine art backgrounds in printmaking and illustration to furniture polishing techniques and administrative skills.

Julie Mehretu’s paintings and drawings refer to elements of mapping and architecture, achieving a calligraphic complexity that resembles turbulent atmospheres and dense social networks. Architectural renderings and aerial views of urban grids enter the work as fragments, losing their real-world specificity and challenging narrow geographic and cultural readings. The paintings’ wax-like surfaces—built up over weeks and months in thin translucent layers—have a luminous warmth and spatial depth, with formal qualities of light and space made all the more complex by Mehretu’s delicate depictions of fire, explosions, and perspectives in both two and three dimensions. Her works engage the history of nonobjective art—from Constructivism to Futurism—posing contemporary questions about the relationship between utopian impulses and abstraction.

An exhibition of recent works will be on view as part of the exhibition Julie Mehretu: Grey Area at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (May 14 – October 6, 2010). The 15th in a series of commissions by Deutsche Bank and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, the works were inspired by Mehretu’s time spent in Berlin. As critic Brian Dillon writes in the accompanying catalog essay: “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.”

Julie Mehretu is featured in the Season 5 (2005) episode Systems of the Art:21—Art in the Twenty-First Century television series on PBS. Watch the full episode online via iTunes (opens application).

VIDEO | Producer: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Susan Sollins. Camera: Ian Serfontein. Sound: Paul Stadden. Editor: Lizzie Donahue, Paulo Padilha & Joaquin Perez. Artwork Courtesy: Julie Mehretu. Special Thanks: Erika Fortner, Harmony Murphy, Sarah Rentz & Damien Young.