Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Littoral Abstraction: Julie Mehretu at the Whitney

"Cairo" by Julie Mehretu (photo: Francis Levy)

The Ethiopian born artist Julie Mehretu’s work might be called “littoral abstraction.” The large scale paintings on exhibit at the Whitney are a history of abstractionist techniques in geographic and political settings. It’s as if the color of Kandinsky and the calligraphic quality of Twombly (“Of Other Planes of There (S.R.)" 2018-19) were overlaid with treatises on colonization and immigration. There's a substrata of literal meaning (that at time takes an almost ghostly form) that's part of the dialogue or dialectic between figuration and abstraction. The curators invoke a quote from the philosopher Edouard Glissant “We clamor for the right to opacity for everyone,” as an epigraph for the show. "Cairo" (120 x 288,” 2013), for example, captures Arab Spring and the 2011 uprising in Tahrir Square.“Being Higher I and II" (2013) address the cataclysm of Hurricane Sandy. Mehretu employs a notational style, a mixture of drawing of an almost architectural nature and dramatic gesturalism that includes everything from dots, circles, eyes, breasts, mouths, insects and wings to capture in her words, a “subconscious terror that you feel vibrating close to the surface.” 

Read "Limbo" by Francis Levy, The Evergreen Review

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