JULIE MEHRETU - Retopistics - 2001


TODAY, AN ARTNET NEWS HEADLINE asked “Who are the Top 10 Most Expensive Women Artists?” The answer includes Julie Mehretu, the Ethiopian-born abstract painter who lives and works in New York. She ranks No. 5, earning the spot when her 2001 work “Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation” (above) sold for $4.6 million at Christie’s New York in 2013.

Artists Cady Noland, Marlene Dumas, Bridgette Riley and Yayoi Kusama top the list of living artists. Mehretu is the only black artist in the select group. Born in 1970, the market value of her work is impressive, particularly given her relatively young age.

artnet News compiled the list by searching auction results for individual arttists using its own artnet Analytics and highlights the following about Mehretu’s sales history:

“Mehretu’s abstract paintings, which are created with layers of acrylic on canvas followed by marks in pencil, ink and more layers of paint, were already fetching six figures in 2006. But it wasn’t until 2010, at the sale of works from the Neuberger Berman and Lehman Brothers corporate art collections at Sotheby’s New York in 2010, that one of her abstract paintings first garnered $1 million.” — artnet News

In the notes for the Christie’s lot, Mehretu describes her practice, her approach and intentions:

“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.” — Julie Mehretu

“Retopistics” is representative of her practice. According to Christie’s, Mehretu left her Harlem studio and took up residence in the Catskills Mountains in upstate New York where she created “Retopistics” using ink and acrylic on canvas in 2001. The auction house describes the painting as “among the artist’s most important and most ambitious works.” The large-scale canvas measures more 101.5 inches high and 208.5 in length, at the time her largest work to date.

“Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation” sold for $4,603,750 (including fees) on May 15, 2013, far exceeding its $1.4 million to $1.8 million estimate.

THE ARTNET NEWS LISTING also notes that, nearly a decade ago, a court proceeding demonstrated the lengths to which a high-profile collector was willing to go to acquire Mehretu’s work and revealed some of the back room dealings of the art world. In a fascinating feature, New York magazine (May 21, 2005) reported on the landmark suit as a part of a larger story that exposed the exclusivity of the art world.

Catalogs published to coincide with her exhibitions have been as sought after as her art and today fetch hundreds of dollars. Mehretu spoke last month in Atlanta, participating in the High Museum’s Conversations with Contemporary Artists program. CT


Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is an independent editorial project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for Your Support.