Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared

Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York

by esartia

First time I encountered Julie Mehretu’s work was in a fashion magazine. I’d like to say that it was the large spread of her equally large painting that intrigued me most, because the grandiose scale of painting (just look at Gagosian’s Anselm Kiefer) and sculpture (Gagosian’s Koons) seems to be the most impressive part of the artwork in this age of warped speed consumerism. But with Mehretu it wasn’t the predominant sense of ‘bigger the better’ that struck a cord with me, but the charted and mapped out layers of submerged, unfinished architectural layouts that came through to the surface of the painting from time to time. The cities that hide beneath layers of velvety charcoal markings over meticulously drafted impossible city plans have a seductive quality that is both sensory and cerebral.

As if set specifically for Mehretu’s maplike canvases Marian Goodman Gallery is set up on North and South sides with a long narrow corridor of offices in between. The elevator opens on the North side where six large paintings hang in two rooms. They are mainly variations on the same layout it seems, with color washes, without color washes, submerged in charcoal, clean of charcoal. Mehretu’s use of color tape in the painting reminded me of Jay DeFeo’s later works, but Mehretu’s style is calculated to be an all over effect instead of a singular color line as in DeFeo’s work. The space Mehretu calculates and charts out her works is liminal (hence the title of the exhibition). It is a space between gestural and geometric, between architectural construct  and sporadic Twombly like scribbles that move around the canvas in sporadic fashion. Yet, the canvas is calm. It is not impulsive or unexpected. It inhabits the space between total chaos and anal retentive disorder. This is the ‘third space’ a term designates the visual relationship between representation and abstraction.

Mehretu  impressive collection of larger than life paintings are being exhibited at Marian Goodman’s until June 22. Don’t bother checking for prices because all but 5 etchings are sold out. The most impressive painting at the end of the South side of the gallery, Beloved (Cairo), was bought by a museum. The Gallery attendant would not tell me which one, but I got the city out of her- Los Angeles, and since LA has 3 museums, my bet is on Jeffrey Deitch’s MOCA. (In 2010 Deitch used his powers to commission Mehretu’s mural for Goldman Sachs’s Lower Manhattan offices for impressive 5 million. I could be wrong, but I think we might end up seeing Beloved (Cairo) at MOCA ina few short months. But before it leaves New York for unforeseeable future, be sure to go to check it out.

When you go to Marian Goodman’s see the North side first and then, once acquainted with those works, walk throughout the long corridor that will lead you to Beloved (Cairo). She will reveal herself to you slowly so that you have time to take in her massive scale. Be sure to see her movement on the canvas, her layered city structure carefully planned out, yet never complete because of the improbability of social history and power sustaining itself indefinitely against the human current. Formal vocabulary of line, color, gesture, grids, mark-making, washes, erasures of velvet black charcoal and ink and graphite that reside on a giant acrylic flat surface help layer and recede into that illusive ‘third space’ that Mehretu maps out for your mind.

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ImageSuggested reading- TJ Demos’s essay “Painting and Uprising:Julie Mehretu’s Third Space”

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