JULIE MEHRETU AT KETTLES YARD
It is true, you can have too much of a good thing. Kettles Yard’s latest show proves it. The work of leading American/Ethiopian artist Julie Mehretu is without doubt intriguing, she displays a fine abstract expressionist style – and a deft touch. In fact she is one of the most successful artists working today. Her drawing entitled Damascus (not in this show ) is certainly one of the most powerful comments on that hellish conflict yet produced.
But her latest Exhibition, alongside legendary Louise Bourgeois, is surely a case of more is less. ; The gallery walls present regulated phalanxes of identically framed and sized black and white monoprints marshaled in what the curator calls ‘grids’ across its walls. Eighty-four of them – an awful lot. And it is off-putting. Stepping inside the room (which frankly few of those there on the opening night did) the effect is overwhelming. They may be carefully considered individual works of art but taken together they assume a crushing banality they do not deserve. To discover they were all done in a few weeks over Christmas is no surprise. Sans colour sans contour and lacking any variation they appear as a worryingly homogenized job lot with little charm – instead of the individuated discrete studies they might be.
Julie Mehretu herself is an attractive 48 year old whose dynamic persona is in the vibrant style of Michelle Obama. In a rather dull pre-opening interview she managed to shine - in between the long questions from a visiting Art professor from London - a generous personality full of ideas
. Everyone would like to have heard more from her. But what she did say was how relaxed she was about the process of production. Unfazed by the challenge printmakers have been struggling with since the dawn of time – the back-to-front nature of their image where they must work in reverse to get their effect, she chatted happily about how spontaneously the prints appeared. And how when she saw the result emerging from her Plexiglas press, she would enhance the marks into something ‘ a bit more identifiable’. Unpretentious and open, this artist is honest about her work. And some of it is heavenly. The drawings she has done to adorn the austere single- bedded room of Helen, founder Jim Ede’s wife, and are delightful. ‘They are erotic’ Julie told us, which might have surprised the famously reserved Mrs.Ede but the four drawings truly celebrate the skill and light touch of Julie Mehretu at her best. And look out for the four drawings hanging in the hall outside the Gallery of the 84 mono prints. They are finely wrought, the very best of modern art with obvious acknowledgement of their forebears in the world of drawing. In a talk on the collection , curator Andrew Nairne ( recently created an OBE) tells us that every one of Julie’s monoprints are ‘very much her.’ But when the artist’s talent is overtaken by the vagaries of the means of production, and the results no longer a matter of her judgment but of random outcomes, how can they meet the delightful level of creativity from under her hand?
This is no slight to Julie Mehretu. Had this been a roomful of eighty-four Cézanne masterpieces ranged uniformly in grids, the effect on the human spirit would be the same. The clichés abound, wood for the trees, too prolific by half or simply that like anything in life, you do need a context a frame a breathing space to appreciate it.