MINNEAPOLIS, MN.- The Walker Art Center
will be the final stop on a national tour of the exhibition Julie Mehretu, the first-ever comprehensive retrospective on the artists work. Born in 1970 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and based in New York, Mehretu is best known for abstract paintings layered with a variety of materials, marks, and meanings. Her canvases and works on paper reference the histories of art, architecture, and past civilizations while addressing some of the most immediate conditions of our contemporary moment, including migration, revolution, climate change, global capitalism, and technology.
Featuring more than 60 paintings and works on paper from 1996 to the present, this midcareer survey reflects the breadth of Mehretus multilayered practice, which moves nimbly across mediums, scale, and subject matter. The presentation covers a broad arc of Mehretus 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.
Mehretus paintings often begin with a process of drawing; she then develops the works by layering techniques such as printing, digital collage, erasure, and painterly abstraction. She is inspired by a variety of sources, including cave paintings, cartography, 17th-century landscape etchings, architectural renderings, graffiti, and, in her most recent work, news photographs of world events. Drawing on this vast archive, she explores how realities of the past and present can shape human consciousness. Mehretu sees her commitment to abstractionand its relationship to freedomas a means of having agency as an artist. Through her work, she has framed social uprisings, including the Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, and Occupy Wall Street, as well as specific events like the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; wildfires in California; and the burning of Rohingya villages in Myanmar. At its core, Mehretus art is invested in lived experiences, giving powerful visual form to both the past and our current moment. 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.
Christine Y. Kim, Curator of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; with Rujeko Hockley, Arnhold Associate Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. The Walkers presentation is coordinated by Siri Engberg, Senior Curator and Director, Visual Arts.