It can be hard to know where exactly to look at a Julie Mehretu piece—there's so much for the eye to land on. Her paintings act as windows into other planes made up of jumbled lines and movement, like abstracted histories. Works like "Stadia II"—an AP Art History favorite and currently on view at Atlanta's High Museum of Art—depict vast, grand, messy scenes that teem with energy and remind me of our current electoral moment.
This monumental painting is part of a triptych from Mehretu that explores nationalism and revolution. The thin, curved, black lines indicate a massive structure that resembles an amphitheater, stadium, or maybe even a Neoclassical building like the Capitol. Notice how the brightly colored shapes littering the frame resemble features and symbols associated with public forums—the red, white, and blue banners; the light sources; the cross; checkered flooring; windows; martinis; the CBS logo; an abstract American flag. It's a massive theoretical gathering space where people can debate, legislate, or riot.
Structures like stadiums or Capitols visually convey order and reason, but their foundations are rooted in chaos, bias, and oppression. This multilayered painting—with the masses down below and symbols up top—is a dynamic representation of that concept. It's Mehretu's "Stadia II" I'll think of as I wait to watch the votes roll in down in Georgia. For me, the piece serves as a reminder of the historical organizing effort it took to get the Peach State to this crucial political moment and the limits of a system designed to benefit those at the very top.