Julie Mehretu
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Julie Mehretu

Walker Art Center

Julie Mehretu, Retopistics: A Renegade Evacuation, 2001. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas. © Julie Mehretu. Photo: Erma Estwick.

October 14, 2021
Julie Mehretu
October 16, 2021–March 6, 2022
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The Walker Art Center will be the final stop on a national tour of the exhibition Julie Mehretu, the first-ever comprehensive retrospective on the artist’s work. Born in 1970 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and based in New York, Mehretu is best known for abstract paintings layered with a variety of materials, marks, and meanings. Her canvases and works on paper reference the histories of art, architecture, and past civilizations while addressing some of the most immediate conditions of our contemporary moment, including migration, revolution, climate change, global capitalism, and technology.

Featuring more than 60 paintings and works on paper from 1996 to the present, this midcareer survey reflects the breadth of Mehretu’s multilayered practice, which moves nimbly across mediums, scale, and subject matter. The presentation covers a broad arc of Mehretu’s artistic evolution, revealing her early focus on drawing, graphics, and mapping and her more recent introduction of bold gestures, sweeps of saturated color, and figurative elements into her immersive, large-scale works.

Mehretu’s paintings often begin with a process of drawing; she then develops the works by layering techniques such as printing, digital collage, erasure, and painterly abstraction. She is inspired by a variety of sources, including cave paintings, cartography, 17th-century landscape etchings, architectural renderings, graffiti, and, in her most recent work, news photographs of world events. Drawing on this vast archive, she explores how realities of the past and present can shape human consciousness. Mehretu sees her commitment to abstraction—and its relationship to freedom—as a means of having agency as an artist. Through her work, she has framed social uprisings, including the Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, and Occupy Wall Street, as well as specific events like the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; wildfires in California; and the burning of Rohingya villages in Myanmar. At its core, Mehretu’s art is invested in lived experiences, giving powerful visual form to both the past and our current moment. As the artist says, her visual language represents how “history is made: one layer on top of another, erasing itself, consuming itself, inventing something else from the same thing.”

Curatorial team
Christine Y. Kim, Curator of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; with Rujeko Hockley, Arnhold Associate Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. The Walker’s presentation is coordinated by Siri Engberg, Senior Curator and Director, Visual Arts.

Exhibition tour
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles: November 3, 2019–September 7, 2020
High Museum of Art, Atlanta: October 24, 2020–January 31, 2021
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York: March 19–August 8, 2021
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis: October 16, 2021–March 6, 2022

Julie Mehretu was co-organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, with major support from the Ford Foundation and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Lead support for the Walker Art Center’s presentation is provided by Martha and Bruce Atwater, Laura and John Taft, and Margaret VB Wurtele. Additional support is provided by Peggy and Ralph Burnet, Lisa and Pat Denzer, Miriam and Erwin Kelen, and the David and Leni Moore Family Foundation. Supporting sponsor Wells Fargo.

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October 14, 2021

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