signed and dated 2001 on the reverse
ink and acrylic on canvas laid on board
The Project, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in May 2001
London, Barbican Art Gallery, The Americans: New Art, October - December 2001
Seattle, Henry Art Gallery; West Palm Beach, Norton Museum of Art; Tampa Museum of Art; Chicago Cultural Center; Crosscurrents at Century's End: Selections from the Neuberger Berman Art Collection, June 2003 - June 2004, pl. XXXV, p. 81, illustrated in color
Julie Mehretu's Untitled 1 is a dynamically iconic painting from the artist's intricate and energetic oeuvre. Mehretu's paintings, layered with swaths of acrylic and elaborately detailed with fine marks of pencil and ink, portray a compression of time, space and location. Informed by architecture, the city and a number of art historical references and executed with a frenetic and highly worked mark making, the artist creates a means of suggesting social agency.
Mehretu's paintings depart from the inspirations of cities, architecture, and urban planning designs and focus on dense and frenzied contemporary urban environments. She deftly fuses disparate architectural features and geographical elements such as columns, porticoes, façades, city maps and building plans, all of which structure and control the traffic of the masses and all of which the artist illustrates at once from varying viewpoints. The compounding of these these fragments form chaotic and exploding images that appear propelled by a tornado-like force as the bursting vectors of color and marks of immediacy extend from a centrifugal core. The marks, here, densely populated in clusters across the painting, are representative of individuals, of figures and crowds of people on the move. Grouped together, the individual becomes part of a social group, a collective force which engulfs the entire composition and is representative of the speed of the modern city. The partially abstracted picture emanates the sensation of speed and subsequently compounds the viewer's experience as one begins to visually travel through the layers, through time and through historical moments and references at once.
The historical references in Mehretu's paintings are further enhanced by the artist's frequent nods to the canon of art history while uniquely slanting each reference. Mehretu's brushwork recalls the techniques of Chinese calligraphy yet whereas with the traditional techniques characters are literally representational, Mehretu's mark making serves to connote the essence of the forms and ideas. Furthermore, that essence connects Mehretu's works to those of Wassily Kandinsky both formally and intellectually. The artist has found inspiration in Kandinsky's notion of the affective purpose of art which is based on the assumption that art must possess spirit in order to elicit a response from the viewer and that this soul, revealed through the balance of colors and composition, hinges on the integrity of the artist. Her ideas and depictions of the chaos of spaces reference Kandinsky's theories in his 1920 essay "The Great Utopia" where he discusses the inevitable implosion or explosion of our constructed spaces out of the sheer necessity of agency. With such informed inspirations, Mehretu is able to successfully reconcile many of the approaches of the past century's artists - uniting physical and sensual expressiveness and socially relevant reflection.
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