Mapped Art

  • William Giersbach, Poured China, 1978. Collection of the artist.

  • Saul Steinberg, Size of Wyoming, 1969. Courtesy of Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.

  • Roger Welch, Herbert R. Welch, Jr. - Westfield, New Jersey Memory Map, 1973. Collection of the artist.

Curated by Peter Frank

“What is a map? In semiotic terms (where meaning is a matter of marking) a map is a sign or coherent combination of signs, a codified set of marks that indicate the details and nuances of topographical and political actualities. Unlike a flag in which symbolic associations have been invested (normally by the sociopolitical group which identifies with the flag), a map does not express poetic ideals, refined metaphors (e.g. red = courage, green = forest), or historical images (as in heraldry). In a map, rendition imitative of the method of mathematical geometry - lines (contours) on a graph - is enhanced with signifiers to compose a scale model of a specific area in real space. The scale-model nature of a map gives it a basis in concrete reality, but the engagement of sign systems introduces the map into the context of non-physical conception. Mapping is a form of communication that is doggedly accurate (or strives to be anyway), yet entirely disembodied.


The concept of ‘regions’ predominates in works as apparently disparate as Sol Lewitt’s excerpt from an aerial photograph and Harold Cohen’s abstract (if worded) painting. The territories isolated in the very different pieces of Claes Oldenburg, Julius Valiunas, Susan MacLeod, and Jerry Jones bear geopolitical currency, their boundaries serving to activate the artist’s - and thereby our own - knowledge and beliefs about these places beyond their shapes. James Hill’s African reference is poetic while Frank Bowling’s is painterly, but the constellation of associations any of us have with the Black Continent instantly becomes part of the ‘meaning’ of the work. Although routes and regions may figure prominently in many artworks, most of the works in the exhibit incorporate them into larger visual and iconographic considerations, considerations which come under the rubric of charts. That charts are used or made by artists more frequently than the essential component routes and regions is understandable: charts convey the most visual and conceptual information at a glance and blur the distinctions between the visual and conceptual forms of cognitive address most completely. Ultimately, artists can experiment with the very forms and conventions of cartography, as in the radical projections of Agenes Denes and, particularly, Buckminster Fuller.


As observed, the consideration of the map format as a self-sufficient structure for artistic expression has been possible only in our time, a time in which ideas and images have reached new extremes of simplicity and refinement and of complexity and interfusion. Maps embody all of these extremes. They have to. Ultimately they are not just about the shape and space of art, but the shape and space of life.”


- Excerpt from catalogue essay by Peter Frank, 1981



Peter Frank

Peter Frank is a New York-born, Los Angeles-based art critic and curator. Associate Editor of Fabrik magazine and art critic for the Huffington Post, Frank has served as Editor of THEmagazine Los Angeles and Visions Art Quarterly, and as art critic for the LA Weekly, Village Voice and SoHo Weekly News. He has organized exhibitions for Documenta in Kassel, the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, and New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, among other venues, and served as Senior Curator at the Riverside Art Museum in California. He has written extensively for books and periodicals around the world.  Past ICI curated exhibitions include:  Artists’ Books USA co-curated with Martha Wilson (1978); Mapped Art: Charts, Routes, Regions (1981); Indiana Influence (1984); and Line and Image (1988).


touring schedule

Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery
Austin, TX, United States
August 31, 1990 - October 17, 1990

Arkansas Arts Center
Little Rock, Arkansas, United States
August 7, 1987 - September 20, 1987

Toledo Museum of Art
Toldedo, Ohio, United States
November 13, 1982 - January 2, 1983

University of Colorado Art Galleries
Boulder, Colorado, United States
May 2, 1982 - June 7, 1982

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