New York-based painter Julie Mehretu has emerged over the last decade as a significant figure in the US contemporary art scene, and her large-scale abstract works were the subject of an exhibition in 2010 at the city’s Guggenheim Museum. So it is something of a surprise to learn that White Cube Bermondsey’s
current show is her first major presentation in the British capital.
Julie Mehretu, 'Liminal Squared', White Cube Bermondsey, London, 1 May - 7 July 2013. © Julie Mehretu. Photo: Ben Westoby. Courtesy White Cube.
The exhibition is a very welcome introduction to her practice for Londoners. Her distinctive style is summed-up well by the title of the show, ‘Liminal Squared’, as an exponential degree of intersection is key to all her works.
Julie Mehretu, Mogamma: Part 2, 2012. Ink and acrylic on canvas. 180 x 144 in. (457.2 x 365.8 cm) © the artist. Photo: Ben Westoby. Courtesy White Cube.
Straight lines, acute and oblique angles, and geometric shapes intersect with more gestural, scrawled and mottled marks constantly across her canvases, which are rendered in graphite, ink and acrylic, and more often than not in varying shades of grey. The results are matrices full of incident and suggestive of three-dimensional space that, on first glance, seem purely abstract, with no intention to represent anything other than themselves.
But these intersections stand, for Mehretu, as a metaphor for the way different ideas and histories are intermeshed, and on further inspection one can see how some of her networks are lines are actually meticulously detailed and overlaid architectural drawings.
Presented in a bespoke space designed by British architect David Adjaye, her series ‘Mogamma’ (2012) is a response to the Arab Spring, its title drawn from a significant government building in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The paintings’ backgrounds feature dense layers of images of other buildings from public squares across the world. Public squares are meeting places for people, often in times of unrest, and their multiplication here represents a symbolic network of social and political associations.
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine