Julie Mehretu's (Ethiopian, born 1970) work incorporates the dynamic visual vocabulary of maps, urban-planning grids, and architectural forms as it alternates between historical narratives and fictional landscapes. Julie Mehretu: Drawing into Painting—the artist’s first solo exhibition—featured 12 newly commissioned, large-scale paintings, and concludes a yearlong artist residency at the Walker Art Center, which organized the exhibition.
Mehretu combines a personal language of signs and symbols with architectural imagery to create her elaborate semi-abstractions. Simultaneously engaged with the formal concerns of color and line and the social concerns of power, history, globalism, and personal narrative, she is interested in “the multifaceted layers of place, space, and time that impact the formation of personal and communal identity.”
The underlying structure of Mehretu’s work consists of socially charged public places—government buildings, museums, stadiums, schools, and airports—drawn in the form of maps and diagrams. She inscribes her own narrative into these decontextualized, highly controlled spaces through the layering of personal markings. Achieving an effect of compositional maelstrom, Mehretu’s paintings blur the line between figuration and abstraction while constantly referencing the world around us—a perfect metaphor for the increasingly interconnected and complex character of the 21st century.
The relationship between Mehretu’s work and the Albright-Knox’s collection was emphasized by an adjacent exhibition, Artist’s Eye on the Collection: Julie Mehretu, which featured works from the collection selected by the artist to accompany her exhibition. This marked the first exhibition curated by an artist in the museum’s history.
In conjunction with this exhibition, Mehretu gave an artist talk on January 25, 2004.