Julie Mehretu (b. 1970)
Julie Mehretu (b. 1970)

Believer's Palace

Julie Mehretu (b. 1970)
Believer's Palace
ink and acrylic on canvas
119 x 167½ in. (302.2 x 425.4 cm.)
Painted in 2008-2009.
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner
B. Dillon, "Grey Eminence," The Guardian, 4 December 2009.
C. Garcia, "Julie Mehretu: Grey Area," Modern Painters, April 2010, p. 18.
K. Rosenberg, "Painter as Architect, Swinging a Wrecking Ball," New York Times, 21 May 2010, p. C24.
A. Budick, "Julie Mehretu, Guggenheim Museum, New York," Financial Times, 3 June 2010.
E. Heartney, "Julie Mehretu: Grey Area: Musée Guggenheim," Art-Press, September 2010, pp. 75-76 (illustrated).
E. Heartney, "Invisible Networks," Art in America, December 2010, p. 143.
J. Conner, "Julie Mehretu: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York," ArtUS, 2010, p. 82.
Berlin, Deutsche Guggenheim and New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Julie Mehretu: Grey Area, October 2009-October 2010.
Fifth Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, "More Light," September-October 2013.

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Sandra Sublett
Sandra Sublett

Lot Essay

An expansive narrative of layered, blurred and erased gestures, Julie Mehretu's Believer's Palace is at once engulfing and mesmerizing. An epic tome chronicling both catastrophic disasters, as well as poignant reminders of conflicts from which the American public has been isolated, this sprawling contemporary palimpsest documents the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the impactful image of the remnants from the World Trade Center attacks, and the partially destroyed palace atop Saddam Hussein's bunker in Baghdad--from which the painting derives its title. Capturing the legacy of destruction, Mehretu's canvases are composed of the scattered lines and fragments culled from images of buildings. Positioned together the cacophony of buildings dissolve and erupt into ruins, making it impossible to distinguish masonry from memory.

First conceived during the artist's residency at the American Academy in Berlin, Mehretu's Grey series investigates the memory of the urban experience. Immersed in a city fraught with the vestiges of war, the consciousness that such destruction was then also being perpetuated in both Afghanistan and Iraq struck a chord for Mehretu. As a direct result, the Grey series set out to illustrate the constant flux of civilization-the ability for cities to expand and diminish as landscapes and buildings are demolished and rebuilt as mandated by both natural and man-made disasters. Of Believer's Palace, critic Brian Dillon has said:

"Mehretu's detonation of the idea of a self-enclosed historical moment has, in part, a very concrete origin in the destruction wrought, for example, on the infrastructure of Baghdad during the Iraq War, images of which form a confusing matrix over which Mehretu's marks hover like dust clouds in her painting Believer's Palace. Such instances of destruction are easily translated into media depictions of individual or cultural loss as much as military victory, but as Mehretu knows, they occlude the real logic of contemporary urban warfare, the effect of which is rather to open the city up to new networks or conduits for infiltration and dispersal. The effect of her scratched rendering of the ruined Believer's Palace is not so much to invite us to contemplate this specific art of obliteration as to imagine the overall pattern of such attacks, the transformation of the city by a novel, if appalling, form of urban planning. ...In contemporary urban warfare, the city is constantly redrawn and reimagined like one of Mehretu's energetically ramifying paintings" (B. Dillion, Grey Area, exh. cat., Deutsche Guggenheim, 2007, p. 46).

An extensive fusion of painting and drawing, Believer's Palace is a highly theatrical blend of the constructivist logic of Le Corbusier, the graphic onslaught and apparent chaos of Leonardo's studies of the Deluge and Rembrandt's febrile pen-and-ink drawings. Coalescing graphic brushwork and hatch atop a myriad of detailed blueprints, Mehretu's abstract composition becomes dominated by a complex interplay of precision and pandemonium. Like characters from an incredible chronicle or a collective attempt at social change, the glyphs and cyphers evolve and interact with each other--engaging in space in such a way that commands the viewer to come forth and physically engage with the canvas. Meticulously created, some of Mehretu's marks serve as the aggressors, while some are constructors, others have more universal implications, and still some serve as entry points into the narrative. And though her forms often appear to be disintegrated or collapsing, the consistent formal elements create a multidimensional panorama held together by the artist's disciplined and unerring sense of structural logic in a complex, dramatic, but ultimately holistic sense of the epic cityscape.

"My aim is to have a picture that appears one way from a distance--almost like a cosmology, city or universe from afar--but then when you approach the work, the overall image shatters into numerous other pictures, stories and events," Mehretu has explained. "My initial impulse and investigation was to try and develop, through drawing, a language that could communicate different types of narratives and build a cityscape, each mark having a character, a modus operandi of social behavior. As they continued to grow and develop in the drawing, I wanted to see them layered; to build a different kind of dimension of space and time into the narratives" (Julie Mehretu, "Interview with David Binkley and Kinsey Katchka," March 28, 2003 reproduced at Africa.si.edu/exhibits/passages/mehretu-conversation.html).

Through the artist's considered and deliberate layering, erasing and smudging of marks, the structures presented on the canvas seem to dissolve within its surface-like a virtual rendering of a faded memory. Implementing an austere palette of black, grey and white, the Grey series suggests the midpoint between two extremes--the gray area. Existing as a fulcrum, Believer's Palace is a complex composition that could seemingly plunge into dense obscurity or fade into an ethereal cloud of dust. Deriving her practice from a myriad of historical events and artistic traditions, Believer's Palace recalls the Chinese calligraphic style of Si Ti Shu Shi. Combined with the graceful elegance of Chinese scroll painting, Mehretu's meditation on war, industry and capital offer no direct horror but contain no consolation.

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