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Grey Area - Julie Mehretu’s Commissioned Work for the Deutsche Guggenheim
Hanging Out at a Museum: Cai Guo-Qiang in Taipei
Views at the Zacheta National Gallery in Warsaw
Karl Duschek at the Mies van der Rohe Haus
Back to the Garden at the 60 Wall Gallery


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Grey Area
Julie Mehretu’s Commissioned Work for the Deutsche Guggenheim

After Gerhard Richter, Jeff Koons, and more recently Anish Kapoor, Julie Mehretu has now created a commissioned piece for the Deutsche Guggenheim. In her spectacular painting series "Grey Area," she investigates urban space, war, destruction, and not least her impressions of Berlin.

Migration and megacities: for millions of people, managing urban life has become trickier than ever before. In the face of urgent environmental, climate, and energy problems, the beginning of the 21st century has seen the city become a stage for global hopes and fears. The human experience of being uprooted and the rapid change many cities are undergoing are also key themes in the work of Julie Mehretu. The artist, who was born in 1970 in Ethiopia and lives in New York, is considered to be one of the most important new discoveries on the contemporary American painting scene. And with good reason: her work, influenced by Chinese and Japanese calligraphy as well as by baroque drawing, landscape painting, comics, and graffiti, combines an investigation of urban realities with entirely new forms of artistic expression.

Julie Mehretu has created a remarkable commissioned piece for the Deutsche Guggenheim: the seven-part painting series Grey Area. The artist has spent two and a half years working on the large-scale canvases, temporarily relocating her studio from New York to Berlin, the city that has inspired her latest series. Thus, in the painting Berliner Plätze (Berlin Plazas) (2008–09), gestural areas are superimposed with abstract and architectonic forms to create a kaleidoscopic panorama of Berlin and its history. Believers’ Palace (2008-09), on the other hand, focuses on the war in Iraq. The palace in the center of Baghdad served primarily as a camouflage for the bunker situated beneath it, which Saddam Hussein had installed in the early 1980s. The painting quotes from elements of the palace’s architecture, while Atlantic Wall (2008-09) integrates computer-generated renderings of the interiors of World War II bunkers.

Julie Mehretu’s works are hybrids of drawing and painting. From a distance, they seem like imaginary maps that assume various different material states within a single work: filigree lines branching off, cloud-like bundles and explosions, hard-edged geometric surfaces. When the viewer approaches the work, urban images can be deciphered as well: fragments of buildings, street blocks, typical Berlin facades from the turn of the century. At the same time, Julie Mehretu erases certain areas in her paintings, subsequently drawing over the ensuing grey blurs. The results have a ghostly effect while functioning as an analogy to the real changes many cities have undergone, including the German capital. In a kind of archaeological reconstruction, we experience the urban spaces in Mehretu’s works as nearly imaginary scenarios in the process of dissolution, where war, the "force of modernism," and the irrepressible dynamism of the present have inscribed themselves together with the fading but still very potent traces of the past. Simultaneous experiences of destruction and new beginning have left their mark on Julie Mehretu’s Grey Area—experiences that are inseparable from Berlin’s history.

Julie Mehretu: Grey Area
Commissioned work for the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin
10/28/2009 – 1/6/2010

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