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Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu

The paintings, drawings, and prints of Julie Mehretu (born 1970, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; currently lives and works in New York) are fantastical topographies—surfaces layered with veils of intricate imagery that reveal palpable tension between figuration and abstraction. Rife with social content and narrative, her works address ideas of interconnected modern civilizations and the history of modernism itself. Fragments from maps, city grids, weather charts, and NFL diagrams appear in her compositions, as do architectural plans for stadiums, international airports, and other public gathering hubs. These references to the built environment, combined with her abstract gestures and swaths of crisp color, are freely mixed with what the artist calls “the symbolic sampling of visual traditions in art history,” borrowed elements from such sources as old master engravings, street graffiti, or Japanese comic books.

This exhibition showcases Mehretu’s decade-long engagement with printmaking, and features editions made with workshops around the country. The artist is drawn to the discipline of “taking apart and putting back together” necessary in making prints, a process which now informs her work in all media. Here, as her prints are brought together for the first time, we see an artist for whom the medium has become a rich arena for creative exploration, and a source of discovery.

The exhibition was organized by Highpoint Editions, Minneapolis. Its presentation at the Johnson Museum was made possible by the Cornell Council for the Arts and the Department of Art. Special thanks are due to Elisabeth Meyer, associate professor in the Department of Art, for bringing the show to the Museum’s attention and securing funding for it.

Highpoint Editions would like to thank Julie Mehretu, The Project, Siri Engberg, Matthew Rezac, Pamela Johnson, Randy Reeves, Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center, and Artserve for their support of this exhibition.