Julie Mehretu’s HOWL, eon (I, II) (2017) is an expansive exploration of the American West — its transcendent landscapes and violent colonial history. Created as part of SFMOMA’s new art commissioning program, this site-specific diptych’s two vast abstract canvases flank the main staircase in the soaring Haas, Jr. Atrium, which is freely accessible to the public.
Born in 1970 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Mehretu conjures the sublime incomprehensibility of our ever-changing world through abstraction. HOWL, eon (I, II) examines the competing impulses of annihilation and preservation at the heart of nineteenth-century westward expansion, and explores how the Bay Area’s history of colonialism, capitalism, class conflict, social protest, and technological innovation have transformed the social and physical landscape. It features a base layer of distorted digital images of contemporary race riots, street protests, and nineteenth-century depictions of the American West, topped with thick, luminous layers of paint and ink applied with brushes, spray painting, and screen printing. Layered tangles of abstract gestures and erasures reflect a landscape that is continually reshaped by physical movement and struggle, reminding us of the conjoined genealogies of chaos, exploitation, and hope in the making of the American West.
Lead support for Julie Mehretu is provided by Carolyn and Preston Butcher.
Major support is provided by Agnes Gund and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.
Generous support is provided by Ethan Beard and Wayee Chu, Gay-Lynn and Robert Blanding, Adam and Katherine Clammer, Concepción S. and Irwin Federman, Robert S. Fisher, Jessica and Jason Moment, Diana Nelson and John Atwater, Denise Littlefield Sobel, Susan and Jim Swartz, Pat Wilson, and Sonya Yu and Zachary Lara. Additional support is provided by Alka and Ravin Agrawal and Dolly and George Chammas.
SFMOMA’s Art Commissioning Endowed Fund is supported by Roberta and Steve Denning, Patricia W. Fitzpatrick, Diana Nelson and John Atwater, and Denise Littlefield Sobel. Art Commissions at SFMOMA are also supported by illy coffee.
Header image: Julie Mehretu, HOWL, eon (I, II), 2017 (detail); commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; collection SFMOMA, gift of Helen and Charles Schwab; © Julie Mehretu; photo: Tom Powel Imaging, Inc.