Just as Jazz is not casual background music, Julie Mehretu’s art is not hotel lobby decor. It is infinitely gratifying, but attention must be paid. Harmonic rhythm thrums in the geometric abstraction, columns and grids, while improvisation bursts out in her emotional, gestural mark making and torrents of paint. The Whitney, in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is opening the entire fifth gallery of its new building for your awesome appreciation with a welcome from Alice Pratt Brown Director, Adam D. Weinberg, “Few artistic encounters are more thrilling than standing close to one of Julie Mehretu’s monumental canvases, enveloped in its fullness, color, forms and symbolic content. Conviction and mastery of composition and brushwork—along with the sheer energy and full commitment of her execution—endow her works with a life force, presence and presentness.”

Inspired by a reservoir of research and art history, the Ethiopian born, Michigan raised, and New York City-based artist draws from maps, Chinese calligraphy, photojournalism and graffiti to pose a reckoning on events like the police killing of Michael Brown and the California wildfires, as well as ongoing issues like migration and climate change. Employing notations and symbols like a hybrid of algorithm and emoji, Mehretu has called the works “story maps of no location.” In making canvases that are both dream and document, ancient and future, or all of the above, whether cool, modal or gospel, she plays a polyrhythmic tune. —Gwynned Vitello