THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART (LACMA) and Whitney Museum of American Art are co-organizing the first-ever comprehensive retrospective of Julie Mehretu. The traveling mid-career survey will feature more than 60 works, about 30 large-scale paintings and 32 works on paper (drawings and prints) dating from 1996 to the present.

The exhibition is co-curated by Christine Y. Kim (LACMA) and Rujeko Hockley (Whitney Museum). The show will open in November 2019 at LACMA, then travel to the Whitney in June 2020, and continue on to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Known for her complex abstract canvases, Mehretu contemplates histories and explores urgent political and social questions spanning capitalism, geopolitics, war, displacement, migration, and global uprisings. Earlier works were based on architectural drawings and schematic maps overlaid with mark making. More recent works have been inspired by news photography documenting deadly fires and political protests and are defined by a more gestural style of abstraction.

Ethiopian-born Mehretu was raised in East Lansing, Mich. For nearly two decades, she has lived and worked in New York City. She is one of the most critically acclaimed contemporary artists working today. In terms of the auction market, Mehretu’s work is the most expensive by a black female living artist. Her record at auction was set in May 2013 when her painting “Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation” (2001) sold at Christies New York for $4.6 million (including fees).


JULIE MEHRETU - Retopistics - 2001
JULIE MEHRETU (b. 1970), “Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation,” 2001 (ink and acrylic on canvas, 101½ x 208½ inches / 257.2 x 529.5 cm). | © Julie Mehretu/Erma Estwick


Mehretu earned an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. She was an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem (2000-01) and named a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow in 2005. In 2015, she received a U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts Award. Her work is represented in public and private collections around the world, including LACMA, the Whitney, the High Museum, and the Walker.

Over her two-decade career, she has exhibited widely. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) commissioned Mehretu to make two paintings for a pair of walls in its monumental atrium. The site-specific works, “HOWL, eon (I and II)” were installed in September 2017 and will be on view for three years. Mehretu, who joined the board of SFMOMA as an artist trustee in May, has described the vast paintings as political landscapes representing America’s westward expansion.

A major European survey, “Julie Mehretu: A Universal History of Everything and Nothing” (2017-18) was presented at the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, in Porto, Portugal, and the Botín Centre in Santander, Spain. The exhibition was her first in Portugal and featured 30 paintings and 60 drawings, emphasizing the importance of works on paper in her practice.

Her latest show was on view this fall at White Cube Mason’s Yard in London. “Julie Mehretu: SEXTANT” showcased the artist’s “use of gestural abstraction as a conduit for evocative and charged emotion and intellectual inquiry.” In January, “Julie Mehretu Drawings and Monotypes” will open at Kettle’s Yard at Cambridge University.

Mehretu, Kim, and Hockley spoke to ARTnews about the forthcoming U.S. retrospective. The artist and curators have the Studio Museum in common. Kim and Hockley previously worked at the Harlem institution. Kim connected with Mehretu during the artist’s residency there, nearly two decades ago. They stayed in touch, Kim moved on to LACMA, and when Mehretu visited the Los Angeles museum a few years ago, they began to talk about collaborating on a potential survey.

The forthcoming exhibition spans the arc of Mehretu’s practice and will feature new work on view for the first time—a couple of pieces produced in 2018 and at least two made in 2019.

“There will be fresh work in the show that also really relates to this moment in time, socially and politically, and also just from me making,” Mehretu told ARTnews. “The work has evolved and moved and changed and shifted so much so that new work will bookend, and offer a very different perspective from, the earlier work.” CT


  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art | Los Angeles
    November 3, 2019–March 22, 2020 (BCAM, Level 1)
    November 3, 2019–May 17, 2020 (BCAM, Level 3)
  • Whitney Museum of American Art | New York, N.Y.
    June 26–Sept. 20, 2020 March 25-Aug. 8, 2021
  • High Museum of Art | Atlanta
    October 24, 2020–January 31, 2021
  • Walker Art Center | Minneapolis, Minn.
    March 13–July 11, 2021 Oct. 16, 2021–March 6, 2022

* SCHEDULE CHANGES Exhibition dates were revised due to COVID-19 closures


TOP IMAGE: JULIE MEHRETU, “Sun Ship (J.C.),” 2018 (ink and acrylic on canvas, 274.3 x 304.8 cm / 108 x 120 inches). | © Julie Mehretu, Photo by Tom Powel Imaging, Inc., White Cube Mason’s Yard Courtesy the artist, White Cube, and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York


“Julie Mehretu: Grey Paintings” was published to coincide with “Hoodnyx, Voodoo and Stelae,” the artist’s 2016 exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery and features an essay by artist Glenn Ligon. “Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared” complements the artist’s first major solo exhibition in London at White Cube gallery. The show presented new and recent paintings in a specially constructed environment designed by architect David Adjaye in collaboration with Mehretu. A new publication “Julie Mehretu: A Universal History of Everything and Nothing,” was released in February.


JULIE MEHRETU, “Epigraph, Damascus,” 2016. | Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Kelvin Davis and Hana Kim through the 2018 Collectors Committee, © Julie Mehretu, Photo by Malcolm Varon


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