Julie Mehretu’s LIMINAL SQUARED at Marian Goodman Gallery

The artist Julie Mehretu has often commented that “trying to figure out who I am and my work is trying to understand systems.” In a new body of work on view at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York, it is equally her desire to understand systems and their disintegration that becomes the subject of her art. Taking her point of departure from the events of the Arab Spring, Mehretu employs her trademark aesthetic of complex, layered imagery to evoke the topics of political and social change, as well as the civic spaces that became the sites of the recent revolutions and occupations. – Nadiah Fellah, NYC Contributor

Installation View, Marian Goodman Gallery. Image Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery
Julie Mehretu | Beloved (Cairo), 2013, Ink and acrylic on canvas, 10 x 24 ft. Image Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery

The show’s centerpiece is a large canvas that measures ten feet tall and twenty-four feet across, titled Beloved (Cairo). In it, a chaotic mass of swirling black and grey markings subtly conceal the monuments and landmarks that became the backdrop to the events of early 2011—although many, like the Tahrir Palace, are inverted. With the Nile on the left, and Cairo on the right, Tahrir square becomes the central focus of the image. The site in which protest and demonstrations were enacted before a global audience, the surrounding combination of ancient ruins like the Heliopolis with modern western-style buildings like the Hilton Hotel gestures towards an urban space that transcends temporality, a site that TJ Demos has remarked represents “a third space of potentiality.”

Fever Graph
Julie Mehretu | Fever graph (algorithm for serendipity), 2013, Graphite, ink and acrylic on canvas, 8 x 10 ft. Image Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery

An artist who takes months to build up her compositions, it can be a similarly laborious process to decode the layers of each paintings. In Fever graph (algorithm for serendipity), fragments of urban plans for Tahrir Square reside under a hazy sky created with dye stains and smeared ink and acrylic.

The Round City
Julie Mehretu | The Round City (Hatshepsut), 2013, Graphite, ink and acrylic on canvas, 8 x 11 ft. Image Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery

In The Round City (Hatshepsut), Mehretu has created a composite image with traces of Baghdad’s architectural outlines, using the name sometimes given to the city on ancient maps. However, the geometric symmetry of the ancient city has been blown apart in the artist’s depiction, intentionally destroying its decipherability.

Julie Mehretu | Co-Evolution of the Futurhyth Machine (after Kodwo Eshun), 2013, Graphite, ink and acrylic on canvas, 9 x 10 ft. Image Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery

In Co-Evolution of the Futurhyth Machine (after Kodwo Eshun), the artist again riffs on the unstable juxtaposition of old and new. Drawing on a visual language influenced by architectural plans, graffiti, Baroque engraving, and Japanese ink drawing, Mehretu’s idiosyncratic style combines abstract imagery with elusive, imagined landscapes. The image is grounded in geometric lines, which include floor patterns of mosques and other iconic buildings, and is overlaid with colorful and indistinct markings, seemingly wilting off the canvas. The title conjures the name of the British-Ghanaian writer Kodwo Eshun, also co-founder of the Otolith Group—an art collective whose socially-engaged projects have centered on environmental issues and sustainability.

Julie Mehretu | Untitled, 2013, Ink, graphite and acrylic on linen, 3 x 4 ft. Image Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery

Accompanied by a group of five new etchings, the large works on canvas at Marion Goodman Gallery represent the latest in a strong and prolific body of work produced by the artist in the last several years. The reoccurring theme of being positioned between old and new, past and future, as invoked by the show’s title, also represents “the stage of standing on the verge between one’s previous way of structuring identity, time, or community and a new way.” It is in this stage, or “third space,” that Mehretu’s artwork most powerfully displays its multi-dimensionality and endless levels of engagement.

Invisible Sun
Julie Mehretu | Invisible Sun (Algorithm), 2012, Ink and acrylic on black canvas, 10 x 14 ft. Image Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery


Originally from Ethiopia, Julie Mehretu (b. 1970) was raised in Michigan, and received her BA from Kalamazoo College in 1992, and an MFA in painting and printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1997. Her work has been exhibited internationally, and she recently exhibited a work titled MOGAMMA (In Four Parts), which was presented at Documenta 13 in Kassel in 2012. The body of work presented at Marian Goodman is a continuation of MOGAMMA, which also took the Arab Spring as a point of departure. The artist lives and works in New York City.

Liminal Squared is on view at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York through June 22nd. A catalogue titled Liminal Squared, with essays by TJ Demos and Tacita Dean, will be published this summer.

Nadiah Fellah is a graduate student of Art History at The Graduate Center, CUNY in New York.

Recent posts

Thursday, December 22, 2022 - 18:17
Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - 15:19
Friday, June 26, 2020 - 13:03
Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - 14:02
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 - 14:55