Julie Mehretu at full speed: from the 24 Hours of Le Mans circuit to Venice, the painter expresses the impossible | Judith Benhamou-Huet Reports


More on judithbenhamouhuet.com



Trains, planes and automobiles… From Robert Delaunay to Marcel Duchamp, modern painters have always been fascinated by the sensations produced by new forms of locomotion. It’s in this same spirit that on 15 June 2024 a car completely covered in a design by American contemporary art star of Ethiopian origin, Julie Mehretu (born in 1970), will be entering the 24 Hours of Le Mans race under the BMW banner.


It’s a hybrid experience, a blend of the hyper-technical with an unconventional form of art, which involves combining a kind of painting custom-made for the vehicle with ultra high-speed motion. 345km/h at top speed to be precise. “This is a performative artwork that will only be achieved once the car has raced,” says the artist.

At Centre Pompidou

On 21 May 2024 Julie Mehretu exhibited her art car at the Centre Pompidou. She talks about how she initially refused to do the project until she visited a race at Daytona in the United States. “The experience was very impressive. When you see this car, exactly the same one that will be racing at Le Mans, moving so fast, you realize how its image transforms with the movement. For this project my goal was to see something as a blur, which when motionless allows the scars to appear, as marks of transformations.” Julie, animated by an unusual energy, doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything. However, she’s never driven the BMW M Hybrid V8.

If the BMW project suits her perfectly this would be because the artist – who is sporting a rockstar look, dressed all in leather – has always addressed movement in her paintings.

Palazzo Grassi

Although in France we’ve rarely had the opportunity to see her work, she was recently the subject of a retrospective across the United States. But in Venice until January 2025, the Palazzo Grassi is exhibiting her on a large scale, revisiting the entirety of her career. While women painters have often worked in small formats, hers are in XXL, and powerful. She makes her abstractions as the result of a choreography that is also a question of the illusion of volumes.

Jealous of her success?

Bracquemond: The works of the forgotten impressionist couple at auction
Félix Bracquemond

Later, all of them, from Manet to Picasso, would be influenced by these images from the land of the rising sun. Marie Bracquemond together with her spouse would socialize with Degas and Manet who came to visit them at their house in Sèvres, and she also painted, but inconsistently and not always in an impressionist spirit. We cannot explain the irregularity of her output. Some people talk about it being a deliberately dilettantish activity for her while others suggest it was her husband, jealous of her success, who hampered her work.

Urban cartographies

For a long time she produced what looked like urban cartographies animated by lines of flight, like in photographs when there are trails left by figures or vehicles as they pass. Now Julie is in pursuit of another impossible thing. A large part of her current method involves starting with images that will later be erased, made illegible or covered up.

Sensual experience


She explains: “One of the reasons I’m interested in the blurring of the image, the reducing it to these ghosts, is to use it as suggested energy. I’m interested in the sensual experience from this place of the constant haunting of time. My interest is not in a particular form of legibility. I’m much more interested in what can be suggested.” Julie believes “in ghosts of a past”. Here she evokes things that are very specific, even though the result is total abstraction.

Appearance of the ghosts


“I believe in the promises dropped by our system, democracy, modernity, decolonization, that haunt us. We are living in a very fractured time. Our past was incredibly violated. I am interested in the appearance of these ghosts that emerge in my paintings. I am interested in what happens to a person in front of the painting itself.

Rembrandt and Tintoretto


We consume images in large quantities, very rapidly, and all day long. Looking at a painting is another experience. Whether it’s Rembrandt or Tintoretto, you note for example the way the hands move, the shadows are depicted… All these decisions create a system, a representation that makes up the experience of the painting.”

The space of half an hour


In Mehretu’s work we should observe the idea of successive layers. The title of the recent works give an indication of the tangible elements that presided over its execution, as in the results of the presidential elections in the United States for example. She explains: “‘‘The space of half an hour’ is about the suspended space of time when we waited to find out whether Biden or Trump had been elected to the American presidency.”



Her new work, the most impressive in the exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi, is made up of translucent double-sided paintings. Here the artist is interested in the fact that the shadow of the viewer merges with the image.

Huma Bahbha, Julie Mehretu
Huma Bahbha, Julie Mehretu

The ghosts are therefore even more present. And that’s exactly what the artist wants.


More on judithbenhamouhuet.com


Julie Mehretu in the Tretyakov Gallery magazine:



Download The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine in App StoreDownload The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine in Google play