Mapping, an exhibition revealing how maps and map imagery serve as source and inspiration for contemporary artists, includes thirty paintings, drawings, photo-composites, sculptures, and installations by as many artists. The exhibition presents a multinational group of artists working in a wide variety of media and from a range of aesthetic perspectives; several artists are well-known, while others are being shown at the Museum for the first time.
For artists of recent decades, maps have provided—symbolically, metaphorically, and graphically—emblems of power; realms and mazes to be explored; abstract forms to be manipulated; and the shapes of dreams. “Maps give men and women the power of gods and captains, but their attraction to artists is somewhat different,” writes curator Robert Storr in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition. “For though a painter or sculptor may also enjoy that feeling of universal mastery, the particular opportunities maps provide visual artists—and their special appeal to modern sensibilities—result from their being the ultimate pictorial coincidence of exacting representation and total abstraction.”
Structured as an anthology, Mapping ranges in date from the 1950 collage Fields on a Map (Meschers, Gironde) by Ellsworth Kelly, to the 1994 work United Shapes of America III (Maps of the U.S. Drawn by Las Vegas Teenagers) by Kim Dingle, both of which are on view for the first time. The exhibition includes several works from the 1960s by such artists as Jasper Johns, Yves Klein, and Claes Oldenburg. It also explores the different ways in which maps and map imagery have in more recent years become a principal focus for a varied selection of artists.
Geopolitical instability informs the work of several artists for whom maps constitute the changing image of power. For example, Miguel Angel Ríos and Adriana Varejão question map-based myths of the discovery and settlement of the Americas in their respective works Columbus Making Ripples (1993) and Mapa de Lopo Homem (1992). Luciano Fabro pieces together the puzzle of a divided Germany in his room-sized installation La Germania (Germany) (1984); and Öyvind Fahlström outlines the relations of the First World to the Third in his installation Garden (A World Model) (1973).
Some artists utilize maps as prototypes for their work, subjecting them to formal manipulations. In his map Portland (1992), for instance, Greg Colson rescales the expanse of the city to the specific quality of the materials he uses: the highway is represented by an ordinary piece of metal tubing, while the older sections of town are laid out in intersecting wooden segments. In Nancy Graves’ drawings Montes Apenninus Region of the Moon (1972), she transposes encoded information about the cosmos from NASA’s Lunar Orbiter Satellite into color-field abstractions. In Buried Poem #2 (April 20, 1971) (1971), Nancy Holt presents a sequence of charts beginning with a map of the United States and ending with abstract blowups of the actual site where she has buried an encapsulated poem.
Other artists employ maps to chart reveries or to tease the rational mind. Kim Jones plots the strategies of imagined warriors in delicate untitled drawings (1980), while Guy Debord reconstructs a map of Paris according to a walk he had taken in Discours sur les passions de l’amour (1957). Marcel Broodthaers alters a simple diagram of our solar system to remind us that earth is scarcely the center of the universe in Soleil politique (1972); and Guillermo Kuitca portrays Zurich as an alluring, but mysterious city in his untitled canvas of 1992.
Mapping is the second in an informal series of exhibitions devoted to contemporary art, of which Sense and Sensibility: Women Artists and Minimalism in the Nineties (1994) was the first.
Organized by Robert Storr, Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture.