The New Social Environment#79

Julie Mehretu, Paul Pfeiffer, and Lawrence Chua with Phong Bui


1 p.m. Eastern / 10 a.m. Pacific

Julie Mehretu, Paul Pfeiffer, and Lawrence Chua will discuss their work and the ongoing programs of Denniston Hill with Rail publisher, Phong Bui. We’ll conclude with a poetry reading from Vanessa Jimenez Gabb.

Julie Mehretu, photo by Teju Cole
Photo credit: Teju Cole

Julie Mehretu is a world renowned painter, born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1970 who lives and works in New York City and Berlin. She received a Master’s of Fine Art with honors from The Rhode Island School of Design in 1997. Mehretu makes large-scale, gestural paintings that are built up through layers of acrylic paint on canvas overlaid with mark-making using pencil, pen, ink and thick streams of paint. Mehretu’s work conveys a layering and compression of time, space and place and a collapse of art historical references, from the dynamism of the Italian Futurists and the geometric abstraction of Malevich to the enveloping scale of Abstract Expressionist colour field painting. In her highly worked canvases, Mehretu creates new narratives using abstracted images of cities, histories, wars and geographies with a frenetic mark making that for the artist becomes a way of signifying social agency as well suggesting an unravelling of a personal biography.

Paul Pfeiffer
Photo credit: Joey Trisolini

Paul Pfeiffer is a visual artist living and working in NYC. He was born in 1966 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Known for his innovative manipulation of digital media, Pfeiffer recasts the visual language of pop spectacle to explore how images shape the perception of ourselves and the world. Pfeiffer earned a B.F.A. in printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute, an M.F.A. from Hunter College, and was a participant in the Whitney Independent Study Program. Working in video, photography, sculpture, and sound, he is drawn to moments intended for mass audiences (live sports events, stadium concert tours, televised game shows, celebrity glamour shots), which he meticulously samples and re-edits to expose an uncanny emptiness underneath. From the hyperreality of photo retouching and digital erasure to the endless repetition of video loops, his mastery of postproduction allows him to magnify the surreal aspects of contemporary existence, where bodies become sites of saturated observation, and violence-as-entertainment flirts with nationalism, religion, and ancient myth. While he also experiments with the format and scale of his works, immersive audiovisual installations often cohabit with portable fetish objects in his exhibitions. Throughout his practice, Pfeiffer seeks to reflect and heighten the existential condition of the viewer as consumer by perversely blurring the boundary between voyeurism and contemplation.

Lawrence Chua
Photo credit: Timothy Gerken

Lawrence Chua is a historian of the global modern built environment with an emphasis on Asian architecture and urban culture. He is an assistant professor at the School of Architecture, Syracuse University and a scholar in residence at the Getty Research Institute for 2020-2021. He has been a fellow at the International Institute of Asian Studies in Leiden and the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, Freiburg. He is the author of Bangkok Utopia: modern architecture and Buddhist Felicities (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2021) as well as a novel, Gold by the Inch (New York: Grove Press, 1998). His writing has also appeared in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Journal of Architecture, Journal of Urban History, Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, and Senses and Society. He received his PhD in the History of Architecture and Urban Development from Cornell University in 2012.

Photo of Phong Bui taken by Nicola Delorme
Photo by Nicola Delorme

Phong H. Bui is an artist, writer, independent curator, Publisher and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail, the River Rail, Rail Editions, and Rail Curatorial Projects. From 2007 to 2010 he served as Curatorial Advisor at MoMA PS1. His recent projects include Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, an ongoing curatorial project that was exhibited in 2019 as an official Collateral Event of the Venice Biennale and at Colby Museum in Waterville, Maine. He is a trustee of Studio in a School, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, Anthology Film Archives, the Third Rail, the Miami Rail, Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program, Second Shift Studio Space of Saint Paul, AICA (2007-2020), and is co-founder of the Monira Foundation, a non-profit which aims to curate ongoing exhibitions and public programming at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City and beyond. Forthcoming projects include the Detroit Rail, the first U.S. retrospective of Jonas Mekas, and Occupy Industry City: Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, Year 3.

In the Rail:


A headshot of poet Vanessa Jimenez Gabb

Vanessa Jimenez Gabb is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection, Pink Salt (Rescue Press, 2021) and Images for Radical Politics (Rescue Press, 2016). She is from and lives in Brooklyn, NY. More at

❤️ 🌈 We'd like to thank the The Terra Foundation for American Art for making these daily conversations possible, and for their support of our growing archive.