Julie Mehretu Reminds Us That Borders Are Meant to Be Trespassed

Julie Mehretu, “Black City” (2007), ink and acrylic on canvas, 120 x 192 inches (Pinault Collection, Paris, France, © Julie Mehretu)

For a painter, mark-making is tantamount to the practice of writing. When presented together, collections of strokes might typify a distinctive visual language, particular to the mark-maker. As a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design in the 1990s, Julie Mehretu developed a system of mark-making to record mercurial geopolitical processes like migration and globalization. These communities of emphatic strokes and gestures would go on to live in monumental abstract paintings, charged with political inquiry, that distinguish Mehretu as one of today’s most exceptional and critical visual artists. 

Mehretu’s remarkable mid-career survey blazes through the fifth floor of the Whitney Museum of Art, illuminating over two decades of her extensive practice. The retrospective is curated by Christine Y. Kim with Rujeko Hockley and was first installed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through September of 2020 before traveling to the Whitney. Across nearly 30 paintings and 40 works on paper, Mehretu, in this profound and timely survey, captures riotous geographies. Often overrun with communities that dispute, collide, and protest, the artist’s works remind us that borders are designed to be trespassed.

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