Mural, 2009
200 West, Goldman Sachs building (viewable to the public through windows on the corner of Vesey Street and West Street)

This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.

Described by Calvin Tompkins of the New Yorker as “the most ambitious painting I’ve seen in a dozen years,”* Julie Mehretu’s Mural is a tour de force of swirling abstraction and edifying figuration. The scattered web of Mehretu’s 80 foot long by 23 foot high work vibrates with the pulse of 21st century networks and relations. In equal measure, the painting’s abstract marks evoke the flags and banners of a crowded arena; the longitudinal and latitudinal grids of a circular globe; and the black holes and gravitational pull of an orbiting galaxy.

Mural towers within the lobby of Goldman Sachs’ office building and lends itself to a reading as an abstracted representation of global capitalism. The painting, along with Franz Ackermann’s The Windmill, The Water, and The Grain (2009) in the Goldman Sachs building’s west lobby, was commissioned by the global investment banking firm in 2007. Mehretu describes the work as an attempt to “draw out the layered confluences and contradictions of the world economy in a mural.”** Indeed, Mehretu embeds architectural source material central to the international exchange of capital within the work’s composition itself: The layered painting contains spatial renderings referencing the history of global economies, including Greek and Roman markets, the New Orleans cotton exchange trade routes, and the façade of the New York Stock Exchange. Mehretu incorporates these forms into the vast expanse of Mural, reconfiguring the flow of assets and accruals into an interconnected map of allusions and abstractions.

Mehretu created Mural through an additive process built upon six layers. The initial layer consists of lines, contours, and shapes referencing the history of modern art, from Ellsworth Kelly’s modular shapes to Alexander Calder’s hanging mobiles. The second layer is a sanded-down acrylic spray, upon which lies a gridded third layer of architectural drawings including modern high-rises. A fourth layer of sanded acrylic spray embeds these various strata into a flattened surface, while Mural’s fifth layer includes additional architectural schemas and aerial views. The painting’s sixth and final layer consists of freehand drawings that Mehretu made atop the canvas itself with acrylic sumi ink, providing the composition with an intricate sense of dynamic detail. With this layered conglomeration, Mehretu’s tectonic mark-making process results in a painting that both congeals from afar and expands close-up.

Mehretu’s biography informs the transnational vision and cartographic impulse of her practice. Born in Addis Abba, Ethiopia in 1970, Mehretu primarily grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, where her father was a professor of economic geography. And though she lives and works in New York City, Mehretu produced Mural in Berlin, where there was more ample space to create the large-scale work. Mehretu’s international background and geographic worldview deeply informs her practice; all the more fitting then, that Mehretu was commissioned to produce Mural, a microcosm for 21st century global networks and an image of the vortex of migrating capital.

– Alex Fialho


*Calvin Tompkins, “Big Art, Big Money: Julie Mehretu’s ‘Mural’ for Goldman Sachs,” The New Yorker, March 29, 2010
**Julie Mehretu Mural Brochure


Photo Credit:

Mural, 2009
Ink and Acrylic on Canvas
Photo Credit: Tom Powel
23 x 80 feet
© Julie Mehretu