Julie Mehretu’s show Hoodnyx, Voodoo and Stelae is worth spending time with. Mehretu is a MacArthur Genius, a Biennial and Art Fair favorite and none of this says anything about her work. The current show at Marian Goodman is overstuffed with greatness. Gauzy gray and black canvases shimmer with black sprayed lines and colorful underpainting which peeks through harnessing abalone shell opalescence. Monumental in scale and somber in tone these paintings represent great progress. They are negative marble, with striations and imperfections born of elemental shifts. These paintings catch light and throwback oils slick dissonance.
Drawings in a small space highlight the skittery line that the composition’s contain. Non-objective yet still full of space, they are preparatory drawings. It is thrilling for me, a lover of works on paper, to see these small spaces exist. I can compare them most directly to Wassily Kandinsky’s Kleine Welten (Small Worlds). Combined the show is museum quality, and certainly enough material for a respectable museum show. A catalog with an essay by Glenn Ligon is due soon.
3 years ago I spoke about Mehretu’s show (link here) at Marian Goodman and specifically the shabby treatment of the architectural form beneath the abstract image. That’s gone now, and so is nearly all “form”. To be sure you occasionally spot an eye, a brow or an lip. The artist spoke beautifully about using images as a jumping off point in a recent conversation with Tyler Green (that you can enjoy here). Still, abstraction reigns and beautifully so.
But, (or is it And?) there is a cautionary warning lurking in all this praise. Mehretu is treading ground others have before. Christopher Wool made Twombly’s scrawl married to hard edged, mechanical line his signature. In this arena of abstraction, Mehretu is masterful, processing a canvas into a high finish. The space within is full of optical trickery. She is better than Wool and better than most, when it comes to building an engaging abstract world.