There are few living artists that have achieved the level of stability in success as Julie Mehretu. Relative to the currently overheated version of the art world her rise seems less meteoric than others. Some have chosen to just drop out of sight like Cady Noland (contemporary art’s J.D. Salinger) while others, Mehretu included, stay out of the limelight and work slowly and deliberately. This is a method that works surprisingly well, assuming the stars align for you.
Julie Mehretu makes abstraction on the back of excised and upturned architectural renderings. The show at Marian Goodman, her first, is entitled Liminal Squared. The maps and buildings get treated well at first like a Lucio Fontana canvas prepped lovingly before the slash. This is the type of work that gets my least favorite hyphenated art word used ad infinitum: “mark-making”. They’re sad, these underdrawings, as the thin line devoid of movement gets layered over with washes and erasures. Each layer built on top of them adds dimension and obscures these details. The marks on each subsequent layer slashes, embellishes and sometimes both. In Mehretu’s work, these impurities are the butter and architectural form the bread.
The floaters in my right eye appear in a muted white light, almost always in the morning. Hours of sleep has given them the energy they need to ping pong through my vision while I begin my day. Looking at Mehretu paintings gives you the immediate sense of viewing life with permanent floaters. The glitches and blotches won’t sit still. They float and shimmer. They bob and disappear and then it becomes clear that there is no pinning down a Mehretu painting because it’s surface will never be static. Ugly things become welcome landmarks from the distraction. Analogies to modern life abound, these paintings are broadly imperfect but complete.
I’ll leave the artist her masking tape and assistants to do the hard work. That is to say, I don’t want to figure it all out. I love a painting that keeps me guessing and adjusting even when I am sure that I have it cornered. Is it possible to be suspicious of something because it is tough to make and easy to like?