Born 1970, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Julie Mehretu’s artistic practice investigates the complex negotiations among people and the spaces they build. In her work, architecture, city plans, and other technical forms delineate socially or politically charged spaces, such as stadiums, public squares, sites of protest and revolution, or buildings ruined by war in Baghdad, Berlin, Damascus, and elsewhere. Mehretu says she tries to locate herself and her perspective between the technical rendering of the built environment and the abstract, autographic marks superimposed upon it.1
In the two prints she made at Highpoint Editions, Mehretu explored the sociopolitical dynamics of architectural space while experimenting with chromatic and monochromatic abstraction. In Entropia (review) (2004) (cat. no. 191) she used thirty-two screenprinted colors to abstract the rigidity of the underlying architecture, whereas in Entropia: Construction (2005) (cat. no. 192) she worked with a monochromatic palette but included an additional drawing of autographic marks to further augment the mingling of technical and organic. Yet colorful or not, the intricacy of Mehretu’s graphic environments invites the viewer both to inspect the situation just inches from the surface and to step back and see how the space looks from a new perspective.
In her painting practice—which requires surveying massive canvases with a scissor lift —Mehretu usually dons her headphones to listen to various styles of jazz, Persian funk, and gangster rap, or sometimes hours-long political or historical podcasts. It is not surprising then that Mehretu’s work is often described in synesthetic terms: the fusion of architecture with autograph is “symphonic,” her marks are “percussive,” and her geometry assumes a “sonic ability.”2
Mehretu’s family moved to Michigan in 1977 amid revolution and civil war in Ethiopia. As an undergraduate, she studied abroad at the University of Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal (1990–91), and received her BA from Kalamazoo College in Michigan (1992). In 1997 Mehretu received her MFA with honors from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, and has since been the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” (2005), the Berlin prize from the American Academy in Berlin (2007), the U.S. State Department’s Medal of Arts (2015), and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Liberty Award for Artistic Leadership (2018).
Mehretu has had solo exhibitions at many institutions and galleries, including White Cube, London (2018); Fundación Botín, Santander, Spain (2017–18); Museu Serralves, Porto, Portugal (2017–18); Gebre Kristos Desta Center Modern Art Museum, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (2016); Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris (2017, 2016, 2013); and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Berlin and New York (2009–10). In 2019–21, a midcareer survey traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; High Museum, Atlanta; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Mehretu’s large-scale HOWL, eon (I, II) (2017), was commissioned for the atrium of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She lives and works in New York and Berlin.