As a painter, I was excited to attend “Abstraction and Memory,” the final portion of the two-day seminar Painting Beyond Itself: The Medium in the Post-Medium Condition at The Sackler Museum in Cambridge, April 12–13. Moderated by Mark Godfrey of the Tate Modern, London, it unfolded in three parts presented by Benjamin Buchloh, art historian, Harvard University; Briony Fer, Professor of History of Art, University College London; and New York artist Julie Mehretu. I was seeking inspiration and guidance into abstraction and memory and not surprisingly, the artist, Julie Mehretu, delivered in her ability to transport me directly to her studio and process.
Buchloh’s talk centered on the work of Gerhard Richter, specifically family portraits and the relationship between the subject and Richter’s attempt to capture reality. And Briony Fer’s discussion, “Where Are the Oculists Now? Abstraction’s Opacity” seemed to be a bridge between Buchloh and Mehretu’s insights into abstraction and its problems.
Mehretu began by speaking about the impulse to keep her practice within the boundaries of painting, drawing and mark making. She discussed the evolution of her work, both drawing and painting, and how the two have informed each other to create a new visual language. The intuitive and analytical, her two opposite processes, come together to make some stunning work — after looking at the images displayed, I understood what she meant when she stated that it took long periods of time to complete her pieces in order to get them to a state of something that is to be experienced.
If you’re interested in reading more from the speakers, I would recommend looking up the “paper abstracts” from the entire two day conference that The Sackler has put on their website: