Art beat // A grand guest for a grand opening

Highpoint inaugurates its new studio with a show of Julie Mehretu prints

THE WEDGE — To stand in front of “Transcending: The New International” is to be overwhelmed by its epic scope, absorbed in its myriad details.

The enormous ink-on-canvas piece by Julie Mehretu contains many of the elements that mark her work: the vortex-like central form; the layering of maps and architectural renderings; and the clusters of arcing and swirling lines that evoke bomb blasts and grass fires. It works like time-lapse photography with the scope of millennia, capturing cycles of building and destruction, civilization and chaos as they remake the landscape.

The piece is scheduled to remain on display through February at the Walker Art Center, where it is part of the permanent collection and where Mehretu was artist-in-residence in 2002. A 2003 solo exhibition at the Walker came at a time when the Ethiopian-born, Michigan-raised artist’s career and reputation were fast growing.

That history may overshadow, somewhat, another important part of Mehretu’s time in Minneapolis: a collaboration with Highpoint Center for Printmaking co-founder and master printer Cole Rogers.

Now, having just settled into a new home on Lake Street, Highpoint is hosting the first-ever exhibition to gather all of Mehretu’s 21 prints, two of which were produced in its old Lyndale Avenue print shop. It marks the official debut of the new studio, and as far as grand openings go, this one’s a knockout.

So, too, is the story of Mehretu’s work with Rogers. One of the two prints, “Entropia (review),” a kind of visual remix borrowing elements from her paintings, was one of the most complex projects ever undertaken at the studio, Executive Director Carla McGrath said.

“When she and Cole were talking, she said, ‘What’s my limit?’ and he said, ‘You don’t have one,’” McGrath recalled.

“Entropia (review)” incorporated 32 layers of screenprinting and lithography. To produce enough prints for a full edition of 45, plus artist’s proofs, plus extras in case of mistakes, Rogers and a team of three interns started work on 100 prints.

It took two months, working full time, for the team to complete the project. Rogers estimated there were 5,000 to 6,000 individual runs through the press in that time.

McGrath recalled watching the exacting and technically demanding process of constructing the print, layer-by-layer, knowing a mistake on any single run could scrap hours of labor. It was “horrifying,” she said.

It also was highly successful. The entire edition — made available in a sale by phone — was snatched up in 45 minutes, McGrath said.

That testifies both to the democratic nature of prints (only wealthy collectors could afford one of Mehretu’s monumental paintings) as well as the incredible rise in popularity Mehretu experienced around that time.

Despite that fact, Rogers remembered her as gracious and enjoyable to work with.

“Even though she was a hot rising star, she was willing to take time to be very courteous to the interns,” he said.

Go see it
“Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu” runs through Nov. 21 at Highpoint Center for Printmaking, 912 W. Lake St. 871-1326.


Painting Minneapolis

Rod Massey’s part-time job as a floor-covering estimator requires a fair amount of driving, windshield time that doubles as research for the self-described urban landscape painter.

“When I see something that strikes a chord I’ll do some drawings, make some notations,” the Windom resident said.

He isn’t looking for some grand façade or urban landmark. A life-long Minneapolitan, Massey is drawn to the humble one and two-story homes that typify the city’s housing stock, the alleyways and parking lots that capture leaves and garbage, but almost no one’s attention.

Not far from where he lives, Massey came across two-story stucco house with green trim and exterior walls stained by years of rain and snow. He painted the scene on a spring morning, viewed from the alley, with a chain link fence enclosing a yard of brown grass, still covered in places with piles of snow.

It could be any one of scores of homes found in the South and Southwest blue-collar neighborhoods far from the Downtown core.

“Even if they’re a little worn and all of that, there’s an affection, typically, for the subject matter,” he said.

Go see it
New paintings by Rod Massey runs through Nov. 28 at Groveland Gallery, 25 Groveland Terrace. 377-7800.