The Cut

The Irreducible Julie Mehretu

Diaspora, capitalism, war, geopolitics, revolution, colonialism, climate change: These are just some of the monumental themes that Julie Mehretu explores in her abstract paintings of often monumental scale. The largest, most ambitious, and best known of her works include Mural, a 23-by-80-foot painting that Mehretu made for the lobby of Goldman Sachs in 2010, and the Howl (eon) I and II series in SFMoMA — which, at 23-by-32 feet each, account for a surface area larger than Vatican City’s The Last Judgement. Just days ago, Mehretu completed her newest large-scale, site-specific painting Ghosthymn (after the raft), which nown hangs on the fifth floor of the Whitney Museum alongside some 70 other works of art she made over the past two decades. Together, they comprise a mid-career survey of the artist, arriving just in time for New York City’s long-awaited spring reopening.

The words used to describe Julie Mehretu’s status in the art world are just as grand as her layered paintings are in size and subject matter. Mehretu, born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in East Lansing, Michigan, and educated at Kalamazoo College and RISD, was officially declared a “genius” by the MacArthur Foundation in 2005, upon receiving its prestigious $500,000 grant. Critics have rightfully dubbed her art-world “royalty”; at 50 years old, Mehretu’s turnover of works at auction is reported to total $21,729,529, making her one of the top-selling living female artists today. Prestigious institutions like MoMa and the Brooklyn Museum, which have collected her work since the early 2000s, have credited Mehretu with “reinvent[ing] abstraction” for the 21st century. Whitney assistant curator Rujeko Hockley resolutely declared her “one of the greatest artists of her generation, and of our time.”

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