Julie Mehretu

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Julie Mehretu
Julie Mehretu, 2015.jpg
Mehretu in 2015
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
NationalityUnited States of America
EducationEast Lansing High School
Alma materKalamazoo College,
Rhode Island School of Design
Partner(s)Jessica Rankin
AwardsMacArthur Fellow

Julie Mehretu (born 1970 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) is a contemporary visual artist, well known for her multi-layered paintings of abstracted landscapes on a large scale. Her paintings, drawings, and prints depict the cumulative effects of urban sociopolitical changes through the landscape's alteration of architecture, topography, and iconography.

Early life and education[edit]

Mehretu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1970, the first child of an Ethiopian college professor and an American teacher. They fled the country in 1977 to escape political turmoil and moved to East Lansing, Michigan, for her father's teaching position on economic geography at Michigan State University.[1][2]:215 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][1] She moved to New York in 1999, now living in New York City with her partner and studio-mate Jessica Rankin.[4][5] Mehretu's mother-in-law is Australian author and poet Lily Brett and her father-in-law is celebrated Australian artist David Rankin.


Mehretu's canvases incorporate elements from technical drawings of a variety of urban buildings and linear illustrations of urban efficiency, including city grids and weather charts. [6] The pieces do not contain any formal, consistent sense of depth, instead utilizing multiple points of view and perspective ratios to construct flattened re-imaginings of city life. [7] Her drawings are similar to her paintings, with many layers forming complex, abstracted images of social interaction on the global scale. [8] The relatively smaller-scale drawings are opportunities for exploration made during the time 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

Imperial Instruction, Istanbul (2004) exemplifies Mehretu's use of layers in a city's history. Arabic lettering and forms that reference Arabic script scatter around the canvas.[2] In Stadia I, II, and III (2004) Mehretu conveys the cultural importance of the stadium through marks and layers of flat shape. Each Stadia contains an architectural outline of a stadium, abstracted flags of the world, and references to corporate logos.[10]

Detail of Mogamma: A Painting in Four Parts at dOCUMENTA (13)

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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]

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).[14] 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.[15] In the spring of 2007 she was the Guna S. Mundheim Visual Arts Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.[16]

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.[2]:221 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, propelled a layering process of subtraction in the Grey Area series. Parts of Fragment (2008-09) and Middle Grey (2007-09) feature this erasing technique. Another in the series that was painted in Berlin, Berliner Plätze (2008-09), holds a phantom presence of overlapped outlines of nineteenth-century German buildings that float as a translucent mass in the frame.[17] 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."[2]:221


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.[18] On September 20, 2005, she was named as one of the 2005 recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as the "genius grant."[19]

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.[20]

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.[21]


Mehretu's works are held in the collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Art,[22] Museum of Modern Art,[23] Brooklyn Museum,[24] Carnegie Museum of Art,[25] Walker Art Center,[26] Studio Museum in Harlem,[27] and the San Diego Museum of Art.[28]

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.[1]

In 2016, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art commissioned Mehretu to create a diptych, with each massive painting flanking the staircase in the atrium which is accessible and free to the public. HOWL, eon (I, II) was first exhibited to the public on September 2, 2017, and the SFMOMA plans to display the paintings for at least three years.  Each canvas is 27 x 32 feet and considered one of the largest contemporary art pieces. To facilitate the creation of the scale of the diptych, Mehretu used a decommissioned church in Harlem as her studio to create. Throughout the creation of her piece, she collaborated with jazz pianist Jason Moran.[29][30] HOWL, eon (I, II) is a political commentary on the history of the western United States' landscape, including the San Francisco Bay Area. The foundation of each work contains digitally abstracted photos from recent race riots, street protests, and nineteenth-century images of the American west.[31]


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.[32] 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),[33] 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]

  • 1995
    • Ancestral Reflections, Archive Gallery. New York, NY
    • Ancestral Reflections, Hampshire College Gallery, Amherst, MA
  • 1996
    • Paintings, Sol Koffler Gallery, Providence, RI
  • 1998
    • Barbara Davis Gallery, Houston, TX
  • 1999
    • Module, Project Row Houses, Houston, TX
  • 2001
    • The Project, New York, NY
    • Art Pace, San Antonio, TX
  • 2002
    • Julie Mehretu: Renegade Delirium, White Cube, London, UK
  • 2003
    • Julie Mehretu: Drawing into Painting, Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art
    • Julie Mehretu: Drawing into Painting, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (travelling)
  • 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
  • 2005
    • Drawings, The Project, New York, NY
    • Currents, St Louis Art Museum, St Louis, MO
  • 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
  • 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
  • 2008
    • Julie Mehretu: City Sitings, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC
    • Julie Mehretu: City Sitings, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA
  • 2009
    • Julie Mehretu: Grey Area, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, DE
  • 2010
    • Julie Mehretu: Notations After the Ring, Metropolitan Opera House, NY, USA
    • Julie Mehretu: Grey Area, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
  • 2011
    • Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu, Davison Art Center, Middletown, USA
  • 2012
    • Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu, The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, New York, USA
  • 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
  • 2014
    • Julie Mehretu: Half A Shadow, carlier | gebauer, Berlin, Germany
    • Julie Mehretu, Myriads Only By Dark, Gemini G.E.L.
  • 2016
    • Julie Mehretu : Hoodnyx, Voodoo and Stelae, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, USA[34]
    • 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
  • 2017
    • Julie Mehretu: A Universal History of Everything and Nothing, Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto, Portugal
    • Julie Mehretu: HOWL, eon (I, II), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA
  • 2018
    • Julie Mehretu: Una historia universal de todo y nada, Botín Centre, Santander, Spain
    • Julie Mehretu/ Tacita Dean, Galerie Marian Goodman, Paris
    • Julie Mehretu: Excavations, University of Virginia Fralin Museum of Art, Charlottesville, Virginia
    • Julie Mehretu: Sextant, White Cube, London [35] [36]

Art market[edit]

Mehretu is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery in New York and by White Cube in London[37] as well as by carlier | gebauer in Berlin.[38]

Mehretu's painting Untitled 1 sold for $1.02 million at Sotheby's in September 2010.[39] Its estimated value had been $600–$800,000.[40] At Art Basel in 2014, White Cube sold Mehretu's Mumbo Jumbo (2008) for $5 million.[41]

In 2005, Mehretu's work was the object of the Lehmann v. The Project Worldwide case before the New York Supreme Court, the first case brought by a collector regarding their right to secure primary access to contemporary art.[42] The case involved legal issues over her work and the right of first refusal contracts between her then-gallery and a collector.[43] 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. Lehmann saw this loan as direct access to Mehretu's work, however, there were four other individuals who were also given right of first choice from the gallery's represented artists.[44] The gallery sold 40 works by Mehretu during the period of the contract, with some offered for discounts of up to 40 percent.[42] Lehmann saw that several Mehretu pieces available in the catalog of the Walker Art Center had been sold to collector Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, and suspected that the agreement was not being kept.[45] He subsequently wrote Haye demanding $17,500, and, after no offer of Mehretu pieces was made, he filed suit.[45] The case, eventually won by Lehmann, revealed to a wider public precisely what prices and discounts galleries offer various collectors on paintings by Mehretu and other contemporary artists- information normally concealed by the art world.[42]


  1. ^ a b c Calvin Tomkins (March 29, 2010). "Big Art, Big Money: Julie Mehretu's 'Mural' for Goldman Sachs". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2017-08-04.
  2. ^ a b c d Scott, Sue (2013). The reckoning : women artists of the new millennium. Prestel. ISBN 3791347594.
  3. ^ https://whitecube.qi-cms.com/media/_file/artist_cv/julie-mehretu-cv.pdf
  4. ^ Calvin Tomkins (March 29, 2010). "Big Art, Big Money: Julie Mehretu's 'Mural' for Goldman Sachs". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2017-08-04.
  5. ^ Mason, Christopher (February 28, 2005), "She Can't Be Bought", New York Magazine, retrieved 2008-03-10
  6. ^ "Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu".
  7. ^ Julie Mehretu White Cube, London.
  8. ^ a b 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. ^ Hart, Rebecca R. (2007). Julie Mehretu: City Sitings. Detroit, MI: Detroit Institute of Art. ISBN 0-89558-161-2.
  11. ^ Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared, 1 May – 7 July 2013 White Cube, London.
  12. ^ Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared, May 11 - June 22, 2013 Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Julie Mehretu PBS Art in the Twenty-First Century, Season 5 (2009), Systems.
  15. ^ Hilarie M. Sheets (November 11, 2007), Industrial Strength in the Motor City New York Times.
  16. ^ Fellow: Julie Mehretu American Academy in Berlin, Berlin.
  17. ^ Young, Joan (2009). Julie Mehretu: Grey Area. New York, NY: Guggenheim Museum Publications. ISBN 978-0-89207-396-2.
  18. ^ "creative-link.org". www.pennymccallfoundation.org. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  19. ^ "She can't be bought, but you can give her money". Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  20. ^ Buhmann, Stephanie (Jul–Aug 2010). "Julie Mehretu Grey Area". The Brooklyn Rail.
  21. ^ "Julie Mehretu -- 2015 Award Winner". US Department of State. US Department of State. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  22. ^ "mehretu | Minneapolis Institute of Art". new.artsmia.org. Minneapolis Institute of Art. 28 January 2017. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  23. ^ "MoMa online catalog". Moma.org. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  24. ^ "Entropia". Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  25. ^ "Stadia II". Carnegie Museum of Art. Carnegie Museum of Art. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  26. ^ "Julie Mehretu, Walker Art Center Collections 2005". Walker Art Center. Walker Art Center. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  27. ^ "Permanent Collection". Studio Museum Harlem. Studio Museum Harlem. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  28. ^ "Mehretu, Julie". San Diego Museum of Art. San Diego Museum of Art. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  29. ^ "Politicized Landscapes, Julie Mehretu". Art21. Retrieved 2019-03-15.
  30. ^ "How Julie Mehretu Created Two of Contemporary Art's Largest Paintings for SFMOMA". artnet News. 2017-09-05. Retrieved 2019-03-15.
  31. ^ "Julie Mehretu · SFMOMA". www.sfmoma.org. Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  32. ^ "2004–5 Carnegie International: A Final Look". Archived from the original on 2008-10-11. Retrieved 2009-01-14.
  33. ^ "White Cube".
  34. ^ "Hoodnyx, Voodoo and Stelae | Exhibition | Marian Goodman Gallery". Hoodnyx, Voodoo and Stelae | Exhibition | Marian Goodman Gallery Website. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  35. ^ https://whitecube.com/exhibitions/exhibition/julie_mehretu_masons_yard_2018
  36. ^ "Julie Mehretu - Biography | Marian Goodman Gallery". www.mariangoodman.com. Retrieved 2019-03-22.
  37. ^ Cube, White. "White Cube". www.whitecube.com. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  38. ^ "carlier gebauer". carlier gebauer. 2013-10-30. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  39. ^ "Lehman's art firesale fetches $12m - Just In - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". Abc.net.au. 2010-09-26. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  40. ^ "» 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.
  41. ^ Georgina Adam (June 20, 2014), Brisk business at the Basel fair Financial Times
  42. ^ a b c Thompson, Don (2008). The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art. United States: St. Martin's Press. p. 196. ISBN 9780230610224.
  43. ^ João Ribas (November 8, 2005). "Julie Mehretu" (interview). ARTINFO. Archived from the original on November 3, 2010. Retrieved 2017-08-03.
  44. ^ "artnet.com Magazine News". www.artnet.com. Retrieved 2019-04-14.
  45. ^ a b "She Can't be Bought: Julie Mehretu". Christopher Mason. Retrieved 2019-04-14.

Further reading[edit]

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