Julie Mehretu

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Julie Mehretu
Julie Mehretu, 2015.jpg
Mehertu in 2015
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
NationalityUnited States of America
EducationEast Lansing High School
Alma materKalamazoo College,
Rhode Island School of Design
AwardsMacArthur Fellow

Julie Mehretu (born 1970 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) is an artist, best known for her densely layered abstract paintings and prints. She is best known for her large-scale paintings that take the abstract energy, topography, and sensibility of global urban landscapes as a source of inspiration.

Early life and education[edit]

Mehretu was born in Ethiopia, in 1970, the first child of an Ethiopian college professor and an American teacher. They fled the country in 1977 and moved to East Lansing, Michigan, for her father's teaching position at Michigan State University.[1][2] A graduate of East Lansing High School, Mehretu received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and did a junior year abroad at Cheikh Anta Diop University (UCAD) in Dakar, Senegal, then attended the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1997.[3][2]


Mehretu moved to New York in 1999.[2] Mehretu lives and works in New York City. She shares her New York studio with her partner, the artist Jessica Rankin.[4] Mehretu's mother-in-law is Australian author and poet Lily Brett and her father-in-law is celebrated Australian artist David Rankin.

Mehretu is known for her large-scale paintings and drawings and her technique of layering different elements and media.[5] Her paintings are built up through layers of acrylic paint on canvas overlaid with mark-making using pencil, pen, ink and thick streams of paint. Her canvases overlay different architectural features such as columns, façades and porticoes with different geographical schema such as charts, building plans and city maps and architectural renderings for stadiums, international airports, and other public gathering hubs,[6] seen from different perspectives, at once aerial, cross-section and isometric.[7] Her drawings are preparatory to her large paintings, and sometimes interim between paintings.[8]

I think of my abstract mark-making as a type of sign lexicon, signifier, or language for characters that hold identity and have social agency. The characters in my maps plotted, journeyed, evolved, and built civilizations. I charted, analyzed, and mapped their experience and development: their cities, their suburbs, their conflicts, and their wars. The paintings occurred in an intangible no-place: a blank terrain, an abstracted map space. As I continued to work I needed a context for the marks, the characters. By combining many types of architectural plans and drawings I tried to create a metaphoric, tectonic view of structural history. I wanted to bring my drawing into time and place.[9]

Mehretu speaking in 2014

Mogamma: A Painting in Four Parts (2012), the collective name for four monumental canvases that were included in documenta 13, relates to 'Al-Mogamma', the name of the all purpose government building in Tahrir Square, Cairo which was both instrumental in the 2011 revolution and architecturally symptomatic of Egypt's post-colonial past. The word 'Mogamma', however, means 'collective' in Arabic and historically, has been used to refer to a place that shares a mosque, a synagogue and a church and is a place of multi faith.[10] A later work, The Round City, Hatshepsut (2013) contains architectural traces of Baghdad, Iraq itself – its title referring to the historical name given to the city in ancient maps. Another painting, Insile (2013) built up from a photo image of Believers' Palace amid civilian buildings, activates its surface with painterly ink gestures, blurring and effacing the ruins beneath.[11]

While best known for large-scale abstract paintings, Mehretu has experimented with prints since graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she was enrolled in the painting and printmaking program in the mid-1990s. Her exploration of printmaking began with etching. She has completed collaborative projects at professional printmaking studios across America, among them Highpoint Editions in Minneapolis, Crown Point Press in San Francisco, Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, and Derrière L'Etoile Studios and Burnet Editions in New York City.[12]

Mehretu was a resident of the CORE Program, Glassell School of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1997–98) and the Artist-in-Residence Program at the Studio Museum in Harlem (2001).[13] During a residency at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, in 2003, she worked with thirty high school girls from East Africa. In 2007, she led a monthlong residency program with 40 art students from Detroit public high schools.[1] In the spring of 2007 she was the Guna S. Mundheim Visual Arts Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.[5]

During her residency in Berlin, Mehretu was commissioned to create seven paintings by the Deutsche Guggenheim; titled Grey Area (2008-2009), the series explores the urban landscape of Berlin as a historical site of generation and destruction.[14] The painting Vanescere (2007), a black-and-white composition that depicts what appears to be a maelstrom of ink and acrylic marks, some of which are sanded away on the surface of the linen support, was a catalyst picture for this series. The art historian Sue Scott has this to say of the Grey Area series: "In these somber, simplified tonal paintings, many of which were based on the facades of beautiful nineteenth-century buildings destroyed in World War II, one gets the sense of buildings in the process of disappearing, much like the history of the city she was depicting."[14]


Mehretu received the U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts in 2015

In 2000, Mehretu was awarded a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award. She was the recipient of the 2001 Penny McCall Award.[15] On September 20, 2005, she was named as one of the 2005 recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as the "genius grant."[16]

In 2007, while completing a residency at the American Academy in Berlin, Julie Mehretu received the 15th commission of the Deutsche Bank and Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. The body of work she created, Grey Area, was composed of six large-scale paintings, completed between 2007 and 2009 in a studio in Berlin.[17]

In 2013, Mehretu was awarded the Barnett and Annalee Newman Award and in 2015 Mehretu received the US Department of State Medal of Arts from Secretary of State John Kerry.[18]


Mehretu's works are held in the collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Art,[19] Museum of Modern Art,[20] Brooklyn Museum,[21] Carnegie Museum of Art,[22] Walker Art Center,[23] Studio Museum in Harlem,[24] and the San Diego Museum of Art.[25]

Although located in a private office building lobby, her 23' x 80' mural commissioned for the new Goldman Sachs tower in New York City (2010) is viewable from the sidewalk windows.[2]

Art market[edit]

Mehretu is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery in New York and by White Cube in London[26] as well as by carlier | gebauer in Berlin.[27]

Mehretu's painting Untitled 1 sold for $1.02 million at Sotheby's in September 2010.[28] Its estimated value had been $600–$800,000.[29] At Art Basel in 2014, White Cube sold Mehretu's Mumbo Jumbo (2008) for $5 million.[30]

In 2010, Mehretu's work was the object of the Lehmann v. The Project Worldwide case before the New York Supreme Court.[4] The case involved legal issues over her work and the right of first refusal contracts between her then-gallery and a collector.[31] In return for a $75,000 loan by the collector Jean-Pierre Lehmann to the Project Gallery, made in February 2001, the gallery was to give Lehmann a right of first refusal on any work by any artist the gallery represented, and at a 30 per cent discount until the loan was repaid. According to Lehmann, the loan was primarily designed to buy access to works by Mehretu. However, the agreement between Lehmann and The Project expressly provided that four other individuals also have the right of first choice to any work by any artist represented by the gallery. The gallery sold 40 works by Mehretu during the period of the contract, and only one was offered first to Lehmann. Lehmann suspected that his agreement was not being honoured after seeing several large paintings by Mehretu belonging to other collectors in an exhibition at the Walker Art Center and sued for breach of contract.[32] The case, eventually won by the collector, revealed to a wider public precisely what prices and discounts galleries offer various collectors and galleries on paintings by Mehretu - information normally concealed by the art world. It also was the first case to try to enforce the right to buy contemporary art.[according to whom?]


In 2001, Mehretu participated in the exhibition Painting at the Edge of the World at the Walker Art Center. She later was one of 38 artists whose work was exhibited in the 2004-5 Carnegie International: A Final Look.[33] She has participated in numerous group exhibitions, including one at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson (2000). Her work has appeared in Free Style at the Studio Museum in Harlem (2001); The Americans at the Barbican Gallery in London (2001); White Cube gallery in London (2002),[34] the Busan Biennale in Korea (2002); the 8th Baltic Triennial in Vilnius, Lithuania (2002); and Drawing Now: Eight Propositions (2002) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Mehretu's work was also included in the "In Praise of Doubt" exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice in the summer of 2011 as well as dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel in 2012. In 2014, she participated in 'The Divine Comedy. Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists' curated by Simon Njami.

Selected solo exhibitions[edit]

  • 2017
    • Julie Mehretu: Una historia universal de todo y nada, Botín Centre, Cantabria, Spain [35]
  • 2016
    • Julie Mehretu : Hoodnyx, Voodoo and Stelae, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, USA[36]
    • Julie Mehretu: The Addis Show, Gebre Kristos Desta Center Modern Art Museum, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
    • Julie Mehretu | Epigraph, Damascus, Niels Borch Jensen Gallery & Editions, Berlin, Germany
  • 2014
    • Julie Mehretu: Half A Shadow, carlier | gebauer, Berlin, Germany
    • Julie Mehretu, Myriads Only By Dark, Gemini G.E.L, at Joni Moisant Weyl, New York
  • 2013
    • Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu, Ohio University Art Gallery, Athens OH, USA
    • Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, USA
    • Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared, White Cube, London, UK
    • Julie Mehretu: Mind Breath and Beat Drawings, Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris, France
  • 2012
    • Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu, The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, New York, USA
  • 2011
    • Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu, Davison Art Center, Middletown, USA
  • 2010
    • Julie Mehretu: Notations After the Ring, Metropolitan Opera House, NY, USA
    • Julie Mehretu: Grey Area, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
  • 2009
    • Julie Mehretu: Grey Area, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, DE
  • 2008
    • Julie Mehretu: City Sitings, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC
    • Julie Mehretu: City Sitings, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA
  • 2007
    • Julie Mehretu: Black City, Kunstverein Hannover, Hanover
    • Julie Mehretu: Black City, Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek
    • Julie Mehretu: City Sitings (traveling through 2008), The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit
  • 2006
    • Black City, MUSAC - Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y Léon, Léon
    • Julie Mehretu – Heavy Weather, Crown Point Press, San Francisco, CA
    • The Unhomely: Phantom Scenes in Global Society, 2nd International Biennial of Contemporary Art in Seville, Spain
  • 2005
    • Drawings, The Project, New York, NY
    • Currents, St Louis Art Museum, St Louis, MO
  • 2004
    • Matrix, University of California Berkeley Art Museum, CA
    • Julie Mehretu: Drawing into Painting, REDCAT, Los Angeles, CA
    • Julie Mehretu: Drawing into Painting, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
    • Déjà-vu, carlier │gebauer, Berlin, Germany
    • Landscape Allegories, Thomas Dane, London, UK
  • 2003
    • Julie Mehretu: Drawing into Painting, Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art
    • Julie Mehretu: Drawing into Painting, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (travelling)
  • 2002
    • Julie Mehretu: Renegade Delirium, White Cube, London, UK
  • 2001
    • The Project, New York, NY
    • Art Pace, San Antonio, TX
  • 1999
    • Module, Project Row Houses, Houston, TX
  • 1998
    • Barbara Davis Gallery, Houston, TX
  • 1996
    • Paintings, Sol Kofler Gallery, Providence, RI
  • 1995
    • Ancestral Reflections, Archive Gallery. New York, NY
    • Ancestral Reflections, Hampshire College Gallery, Amherst, MA


  1. ^ a b Hilarie M. Sheets (November 11, 2007), Industrial Strength in the Motor City New York Times.
  2. ^ a b c d Calvin Tomkins (March 29, 2010). "Big Art, Big Money: Julie Mehretu's 'Mural' for Goldman Sachs". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2017-08-04.
  3. ^ "White Cube (via Archive.org)". May 18, 2008. Archived from the original on May 18, 2008.
  4. ^ a b Mason, Christopher (February 28, 2005), "She Can't Be Bought", New York Magazine, retrieved 2008-03-10
  5. ^ a b Fellow: Julie Mehretu American Academy in Berlin, Berlin.
  6. ^ Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University.
  7. ^ Julie Mehretu White Cube, London.
  8. ^ Julie Mehretu — New Drawings, February 1 – March 16, 2008 Kresge Art Museum, Michigan State University.
  9. ^ Laurie Firstenberg, "Painting Platform in NY", Flash Art Vol. XXXV No. 227, November | December 2002, p. 70
  10. ^ Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared, 1 May – 7 July 2013 White Cube, London.
  11. ^ Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared, May 11 - June 22, 2013 Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.
  12. ^ The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center presents the exhibition "Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu," April 13 - June 17, 2012 Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie.
  13. ^ Julie Mehretu PBS Art in the Twenty-First Century, Season 5 (2009), Systems.
  14. ^ a b Scott, Sue (2013). The reckoning : women artists of the new millennium. Prestel. p. 221. ISBN 3791347594.
  15. ^ "creative-link.org". www.pennymccallfoundation.org. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  16. ^ "She can't be bought, but you can give her money". Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  17. ^ Buhmann, Stephanie (Jul–Aug 2010). "Julie Mehretu Grey Area". The Brooklyn Rail.
  18. ^ "Julie Mehretu -- 2015 Award Winner". US Department of State. US Department of State. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  19. ^ "mehretu | Minneapolis Institute of Art". new.artsmia.org. Minneapolis Institute of Art. 28 January 2017. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  20. ^ "MoMa online catalog". Moma.org. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  21. ^ "Entropia". Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  22. ^ "Stadia II". Carnegie Museum of Art. Carnegie Museum of Art. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  23. ^ "Julie Mehretu, Walker Art Center Collections 2005". Walker Art Center. Walker Art Center. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  24. ^ "Permanent Collection". Studio Museum Harlem. Studio Museum Harlem. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  25. ^ "Mehretu, Julie". San Diego Museum of Art. San Diego Museum of Art. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  26. ^ Cube, White. "White Cube". www.whitecube.com. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  27. ^ "carlier gebauer". carlier gebauer. 2013-10-30. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  28. ^ "Lehman's art firesale fetches $12m - Just In - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". Abc.net.au. 2010-09-26. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  29. ^ "» AO Auction Preview: Two years after declaring bankruptcy Lehman Brothers hopes to sell hundred of artworks worth millions at 3 auctions in UK & US - AO Art Observed™". Artobserved.com. 2010-08-20. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  30. ^ Georgina Adam (June 20, 2014), Brisk business at the Basel fair Financial Times
  31. ^ João Ribas (November 8, 2005). "Julie Mehretu" (interview). ARTINFO. Archived from the original on November 3, 2010. Retrieved 2017-08-03.
  32. ^ Colin Gleadell (January 31, 2005), Contemporary market: Julie Mehretu The Daily Telegraph.
  33. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-10-11. Retrieved 2009-01-14.
  34. ^ "White Cube — Renegade Delirium". Archived from the original on February 11, 2007.
  35. ^ "Botín Centre | Exposición | Julie Mehretu, Una historia universal de todo y nada". Retrieved 2017-10-17.
  36. ^ "Hoodnyx, Voodoo and Stelae | Exhibition | Marian Goodman Gallery". Hoodnyx, Voodoo and Stelae | Exhibition | Marian Goodman Gallery Website. Retrieved 2017-03-11.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]