Julie Mehretu’s New LACMA Survey Reveals an Artist on the Peak of Her Energy—and One Who Is Concerned about Giving It Away

Up shut, Julie Mehretu’s large-scale work are formidable of their element—the masterful layers of small marks filling 15- or 20-foot expanses of canvas. They’re particularly spectacular for viewers in Los Angeles, the place no gallery or establishment has introduced a solo present of Mehretu’s work since 2003, when a touring exhibition stopped off on the downtown area RedCat.

However probably the most telling works in her new mid-career survey on the Los Angeles County Museum of Artwork, titled merely “Julie Mehretu,” could be the smallest: tiny indexes made on 5-by-5-inch mylar and put in in a facet gallery. These gridded drawings from 1997 served as keys for the invented characters Mehretu would incorporate into her complicated, map-like drawings. A few of these characters resemble little bugs, double arrows, wishbones, hazard indicators, or melting ghosts. They seem in her early drawings and work as streams of migrating marks that, from a distance, mimic the contours of cityscapes or mountain passes. However examined extra intently, they appear like advancing armies of bizarre, invented, and shifting personalities—as in Untitled (yellow with ellipses) (1998), by which arrow-like characters transfer in from all instructions.

For years, Mehretu has referred to her work as “story maps of no location,” which sounds aptly poetic and conjures an entire historical past of artists whose imaginary mapping left them labeled as radical, bizarre, or outsider. People artist Martin Ramirez repeated a sequence of intuitive marks in cosmologies; Channa Horowitz’s exact invented methods had been obsessive makes an attempt at world-making; Mark Lombardi’s conspiratorial mind-maps relied on constant units of marks. So, too, does Mehretu’s methodology think of literary experiments: Jamaican poet…

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