I was recently in Los Angeles for business retreat and went a couple days early to have the time to go visit some museums. Before I went, I didn’t look at what was on exhibit or plan on what to see. I simply wanted to look at art and wanted to be open to the possibilities. So, I booked a hotel within walking distance to LACMA. So, I have to do a little shout out to Hotel Wilshire! They have a lovey happy hour every day for guests and a fabulous rooftop restaurant where I had what was possibly the best cheeseburger of my life. But I am now off topic...
Upon arriving at LACMA I discovered that the original permanent collection galleries were closed in preparation for the upcoming construction of their new building, the David Geffen Galleries (set to open in 2024). But hey, that is what happens when you don’t look at the website...you tend to get redirected. So, off I went to the Broad Contemporary Art Museum.
Now, I must tell you something. I have always had a complicated relationship with Modern Art. It requires me to slow down and really look to understand what is going on. It is harder for me to digest than straightforward narrative art (think Rothko vs. Van Gogh.) It tends to make my head hurt like wearing a hat that is a couple sizes too small. But it also tends to expand how I think, so I put myself through the discomfort.
So, imagine my suffering when I entered the Julie Mehretu exhibit! When I first walked in I was definitely not in love. It was like being set up on a blind date and showing up to the restaurant only to realize that your date doesn’t quite measure up to what you had imagined. But you sit down anyway because you are a pretty decent human being and you trust your friend had some good reason for setting the two of you up. Who knows...maybe you will find them interesting.
As I walked through the exhibit, the explanations of the work were critical to really helping me get to know my her. They answered the questions about the way she works and how she thinks. It was a good conversation. The depth in her earlier paintings is rich and almost fathomless. They are built up through layers of lines, shapes and colors of varying weights. It is sort of like you are looking through layers of sediment on an archaeological dig but those layers of sediment are clear and you are standing on top of them, looking down.
There is one piece Epigraph, Damascus that is made up of six panels which has layers of different types of printmaking. It is enormous and makes a big impact from a distance. I fear that I was more impressed with the technique, the size of it and its presentation rather than the content. Or is it the content that makes me uncomfortable? That as I get closer to the piece and read what it represents, it becomes more personal?
But it was the black and white work that really resonated with me. It is a real departure from her earlier work. It is just simply more emotive than the cold impersonal touch in her earlier pieces. Being Higher I is a dance of light and dark. This work really has Mehretu’s hand in it and it really is like she is finally trusting you with seeing her. It is like dark chocolate - a little bit sweet and also a little bit bitter. But that little taste of bitter makes the sweetness so much more potent.
I am still not in love but I am just intrigued enough to go on a second date.