Envisioning Maps

On View:

September 2, 2008 – June 26, 2009


September 25, 2008, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

Envisioning Maps image 1 Envisioning Maps image 2

Envisioning Maps is an exhibition of paintings, sculptures, and prints by contemporary American and international artists who use actual maps, real or imagined, as metaphors for human relationships, historical experience, social values, global politics, and issues of identity and heritage. The exhibition offers contemporary expressions of the full range of maps throughout the centuries: maps of projected travels or memories of journeys; maps depicting national boundaries or natural resources; maps of the known world or places yet to be explored; maps of worlds real and lost; maps of migration, exile, and immigration; maps for navigation or pilgrimage; maps of military campaigns or ecological disasters; maps of the earth and the constellations; and maps of ancient agricultural fields to the latest NASA and GPS navigational tools.

Envisioning Maps image 3 Envisioning Maps image 4

Laura Kruger, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) Museum Curator, explains, “A map is a visualization of a particular surface pattern of the earth showing shape, size, and relative proportions. It might include physical landmarks such as water features, geological outcroppings, settlements, unexplored areas. A map can allude to other factors such as politics, population density, mineral resources, roads, and nationality. Vincent Varga, author of Cartographia: Mapping Civilizations, points out that those who drew the maps controlled the destiny of nations through the very power of delineating space. The graphic impact of maps of exploration, invasion, and rebellion is more memorable and vivid than the long explanatory texts accompanying them.”

Envisioning Maps image 5 Envisioning Maps image 6

These themes and concepts are at the heart of the works in this exhibition. Mike Howard’s monumental depiction of the Assassination of Trotsky pulls us into the orbit of presumed world domination; the overturned globe is as explicit as the dead Russian ideologist. Joyce Kozloff uses maps as the foundation for structures in which she inserts a range of issues, particularly the role of cartography in human knowledge and as an imposition of imperial will, and as configured in the imagination, composed of memories and fragments. Doug Beube’s globe studded with matches alludes to the potential for world conflagration, while Paul Weissman depicts the path of the toxic clouds covering Europe and North America following the Chernobyl disaster. David Newman’s anthropomorphic beasts battle and embrace over the tatters of terrain amid turbulent waters.

Envisioning Maps image 7 Envisioning Maps image 8

The idea of domination and the ultimate effect of war are chillingly brought home by Melissa Gould’s map, “Neu York”, 1945, in which every New York City street is named as if the Nazis had prevailed and it were Berlin. The threat of Nazi victimization is felt in Tamar Hirschl’s Exodus II, a map of France, in which flight is no longer possible.

Envisioning Maps image 9 Envisioning Maps image 10

Working with maps is a hallmark of William Kentridge and in Der Sudliche Sternhimmel, the two dark silhouettes marching across the map of the constellations imply the flight of outcasts or refugees. Karen Gunderson’s canvas depicts the pitch black night sky as it appeared to Jews being rowed to safety on the night of October 1, 1943 from Denmark to Sweden, guided by the stars to their destiny. A humanist note is struck by the hand blown glass assamblages of Marc Petrovic, in which plump birds find their way home guided by a nautical maps.

Returning home is a theme that links both maps of migration and maps of immigration. Peter Sis has provided a fantasy of New York City in the form of a majestic whale/map. A political message is conveyed by Mark Podwal who brings sharp wit and deeply felt passion to his charged, meticulous drawings, including a view of the Jerusalem of Gershom Sholem, the scholar of mysticism. Barbara Green documents the real journey of her family from the Old World to the New.


Israel’s distinctive map appears in a number of works, as in Archie Rand’s iconic depiction of the state and its visionary, Theodor Herzl. Paula Scher staggers the viewer with an avalanche of names, places, statistics, and demographic information, plumbing the depth of the full meaning of the word ‘map.’ Iris Levinson rotates the conventional vertical view of Israel, alluding to the country’s state of flux, balancing between the open sea and the surrounding desert. Maty Grunberg’s paper assemblage expresses the aging of Israel, with each alteration in its historical borders been etched into its physical and psychological being.

“Finding our place in the world is a core value for all humankind,” says Jean Rosensaft, HUC-JIR Museum Director. “This exhibition demonstrates the significant role of the artist in charting the journey.”

View Catalogue:

PDF or ADA Text