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Matrix 211

April 18 through June 27, 2004

MATRIX/Julie Mehretu: Manifestation

The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is pleased to announce the latest exhibition in the MATRIX Program for Contemporary Art, an ongoing series dedicated to presenting cutting-edge art and ideas from around the world. MATRIX 211: Julie Mehretu Manifestation is a collection of large-scale, heavily worked and multi-layered paintings that Mehretu describes as "over-the-top epic narratives." Mehretu's paintings are currently featured in the 2004 Whitney Biennial. Manifestation is her first solo museum exhibition on the West Coast. Her work has received critical acclaim in influential shows at PS1, Queens, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Art Pace, San Antonio, as well as at the 2003 Istanbul Bienniale.

Painting in ink and acrylic on velum and Mylar, Mehretu methodically builds layers of abstract marks that she describes as "narratives." Drawing on sources as diverse as flight patterns, wind and water currents, and highway and subway maps, as well as comic book art, graffiti, and Japanese and Chinese calligraphy, these densely layered paintings are rich in detail, but from a distance the intricate specificity of the works disappears. Mehretu's interest is in the ways in which these levels of information relate and function as a system, which she describes as "a whole cosmos … that is the overall painting, while the little minute … marks act more like characters, individual stories."

Though her forms often appear to be disintegrating or collapsing, the consistent formal element of Mehretu's work is a complex interplay of precision and chaos. Pictured in the exhibition's signature painting Manifestation are thousands of ink drawn marks that signify bursts of cultural resistance amid the ebb and flow of systems and organic orders. The underpaintings of Manifestation and its partner work Immanence combine to create the effect of stretched out galactic space. Congress, the painting that acts as the exhibition's centerpiece, evokes gates to a city or a stadium through layers of expressive, small ink-drawn gestures that rest upon the layers of accumulated resin. Mehretu incorporates a cartographic impulse in all her works, with dazzling arrays of color and line applied on a layered visual ground. She notes artistic influences as diverse as New York based-performance artist and Vietnam veteran Kim Jones, abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky, and ancient Chinese calligraphers.

Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Mehretu attended university in Dakar, Senegal, obtained her B.A. from Kalamazoo College in Michigan, and received her M.F.A. in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design.