Spotlight: Julie Mehretu’s Abstract Canvases Tackle Current Events and Biblical Verses in a New Solo Show in London

Mehretu's current solo show with White Cube, Bermondsey, highlights their signature caligraphic painting style.

Installation view of "Julie Mehretu: They departed for their own country another way" (2023). Courtesy of White Cube, London.

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What You Need to Know: On view through November 5, 2023, “Julie Mehretu: They departed into their own country another way (a 9x9x9 hauntology)” features recent work by the American artist largely based on imagery drawn from current affairs media and news sources—referencing such events as the war in Ukraine and the January 6 U.S. insurrection. Presented by White Cube Bermondsey in London, the show marks Mehretu’s fifth solo with the gallery, and her first at Bermondsey in ten years, since her exhibition “Liminal Squared” took place in 2013.

The title of the show is drawn from the biblical verse Matthew 2:12, in which God cautions the Magi through a dream about the dangers of King Herod, leading them to disguise themselves following their visit to the newborn Jesus. Installed throughout the entirety of the gallery’s spaces, the exhibition is comprised of three new painting series: two featuring acrylic on canvas, and one based on semi-translucent polyester mesh. In White Cube Bermondsey’s 9x9x9 gallery space, Mehretu’s painting for which the show is titled is shown alongside a sculptural work by the artist Nairy Baghramian, continuing an ongoing dialogue between the two artists.

About the Artist: Ethiopian-born American artist Julie Mehretu (b. 1970) received her B.A. from Kalamazoo College in Michigan and spent her junior year attending Cheikh Anta Diop University (UCAD) in Dakar. She went on to earn her M.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), graduating in 1997. Mehretu’s artistic style is recognized for its calligraphic marks and multi-layered approach to abstraction, often taking place on an imposingly large scale. In 2007, Goldman Sachs commissioned Mehretu for a lobby mural, ultimately titled Mural, that was about the same size as a tennis court. Working across painting, drawing, and print mediums, the artist distills symbols and imagery into a personal and unique visual lexicon that transcends the individual historical events or source materials they are derived from. She has been the recipient of numerous prestigious grants and awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship in 2005; the U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts in 2015; and in 2020 was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.

Why We Like It: In Mehretu’s solo show with White Cube Bermondsey, both long-time followers and those new to her work can immerse themselves in her signature, calligraphic abstractions and explorations into the world of symbols and representation. The exhibition opens with its title track painting, They departed for their own country another way (2023), juxtaposed with Bagramian’s aluminum and silicon sculpture S’asseyant (2022), setting the tone for the rest of the show, and emphasizing the “liberation of the figure, or of representation itself.” Moving through, visitors are met with Mehretu’s “classic” works, featuring her unique process of digitally manipulating and distorting source imagery and reproducing them through hazes of color and dots reminiscent of a Ben-Day pattern—highlighting the mutability of perception and representation. Perhaps the most enveloping part of the show is the installation of Mehretu’s “TRANSpaintings,” framed in steel and free from the wall allowing the viewer to fully circle the work. Here, Mehretu’s interrogation of symbols, composition, and medium is brought to the third dimension, providing a proverbial starting point—rather than conclusion—on the nature of understanding and perception.

See inside the exhibition and featured works below.

Installation view of “Julie Mehretu: They departed for their own country another way” (2023). Courtesy of White Cube, London.

Installation view of “Julie Mehretu: They departed for their own country another way” (2023). Courtesy of White Cube, London.

Installation view of Julie Mehretu, They departed their own country for another way (2023). Courtesy of White Cube, London.

Julie Mehretu, Revenant Maroons (2022). Courtesy of White Cube, London.

Julie Mehretu, TRANSpaintings (recurrence) (2023). Courtesy of White Cube, London.

Julie Mehretu: They departed into their own country another way” is on view at White Cube, Bermondsey, London, through November 5, 2023.

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