Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared

Over the last decade, Julie Mehretu has become an art world star, her work shown at The Whitney and Guggenheim (New York and Berlin), purchased by MOMA (and prominently displayed near Barnet Newman’s obelisk) and fought over by collectors, one of whom even took her New York dealer to court after being denied ‘first refusal’ on a new picture. Now White Cube in Bermondsey, in conjunction with Marion Goodman Gallery in New York, is showing a quartet of monumental new works, fresh from last year’s dOCUMENTA 13, alongside some pieces made earlier on this year.

Her work is being increasingly cited in the narrative of 21st Century painting - particularly by American curators and museums - as representing a sensibility and practice that’s both postmodern and post-abstract (even while it continues to reference the language of modern abstraction).  With their multiple viewpoints and multiple visual languages, her paintings represent the protean complexity as well as the dematerialised nature of our speeded up urban world, its digital trace increasingly obscuring the physical architecture that still lies beneath it.

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Mogamma is everywhere and nowhere, a polyglot postcolonial multiplex, simultaneously interconnected and decentred. The manner of its making is also multiple: dependent on the skills of the illustrator and architectural draughtsman, the printmaker charged with colour schemes and the sander and polisher hired to produce the final ‘super-cool technical surface’. Alongside this technical fabrication (and the rapid rate of production it engenders), Mehretu filters her evolving images through the computer screen, a seemingly continuous process of correcting, adding and erasing her carefully layered creations that make the image’s final state all but impossible to locate.

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Mogamma overlays a place (a government building in Tahrir square) with an idea (a communal arena containing diverse beliefs) and ties them to a moment of violent disruption. Through this multiple lens Mehretu references - both compositionally and metaphorically - the past, present and future. The architecture functions as both historic space and compositional grid; the haptic markings, random ink rubbings and ghostly erasures, replicate the strategies of high abstraction as well as symbolically disturbing the once classically ordered city square (the locus of authority and control); and floating above it all, like a plethora of web maps, her bold smooth lines and free floating shapes serve both to energize and disrupt any single reading of her ‘vertiginous panoramas’, suggesting the instantaneous connectivity, the dizzying complexity and disorientating noise, of our digital world. This is no longer a space or place but a stream of disembodied moments, an indelible trace on the future.

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Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared, White Cube Bermondsey, London 1 May – 7 July 2013.