Critics’ Picks

View of “Contemporary Cartographies: Drawing Thought,” 2012.

View of “Contemporary Cartographies: Drawing Thought,” 2012.


“Contemporary Cartographies: Drawing Thought”

CaixaForum Madrid
Paseo del Prado, 36
November 21, 2012–February 24, 2013

By subverting the conventions of mapmaking, the seventy-five artists in “Contemporary Cartographies” imagine new ways of organizing the world. The exhibition begins with maps of Spain made by the royal geographer Tómas López between the 1770s and 1790s, underscoring the map’s foundational purpose, to demarcate territory. Joaquín Torres-García at once reveals and upends the map’s political function in América invertida (America Reversed), 1943, a drawing that reorients Latin America upward to emphasize the importance of the south. Similarly, the Surrealist Map of the World, 1929, which was anonymously published in the Belgium magazine Variétés, enlarges the Pacific, Russia, and Alaska and minimizes North America and Europe, inverting geopolitical power relations. Öyvind Fahlström also draws the viewer’s attention to discrepancies in resources in his silk screen Sketch for a World Map, 1995, whose cartoonlike rendering of the world includes statistics on various countries’ rates of illiteracy, leprosy, bank loans, and dictatorships. While such pieces highlight existing territorial struggles, Robert Smithson invents new places like “Zemoria” and the “Sea of Kimtyra” in his undated pencil-drawn Imaginary Maps.

Considering cartography as an idealized abstraction of experience, many artists here explore the relationship between mark-making and the body. Guy Debord interrupts a map of Paris with bold red arrows in his Psychogeographic Guide to Paris, 1957, offering new itineraries that reconfigure one’s experience of space. The body is itself marked by borders in Adriana Varejão’s photograph Contingente (Contingent), 1998–2000, wherein a red line cuts across a lone hand on a green background to designate the equator. The psychological is the operative category for the maps of the unconscious on display, such as Carl Jung’s Red Book, 1957, and Anna Maria Maiolino’s series “Mapas Mentais” (Mental Maps), 1970–76, which diagrams feelings such as despair, anxiety, and solitude, along with names and dates, into a grid of painted boxes. Maps of the mind are literalized in the Nobel Prize–winning scientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s intricate drawings of the brain and neural cells from the turn of the twentieth-century. Meanwhile, Isidoro Valcárcel Medina rearranges the collection of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in his architectural renderings of the museum’s galleries, signaling how the map codifies art and its display, while also inviting new forms of critique.