Amidst the recent rise in popularity of Mapquest and the overwhelmingly intricate Google Earth, the Field Museum’s simply titled “Maps” sets out to show that maps were once hand-written and delightfully flawed. Historical heavy-hitters like Charles Lindberg’s New York-to-Paris flight chart and J.R.R. Tolkien’s imaginary depiction of Minas Tirith highlight the exhibit, but nearly all the pieces exist within their own subjective realm. A February 1944 Los Angeles Times wartime graphic shows an arrow decorated in stars and stripes advancing on Hong Kong while hordes of bombs obliterate Tokyo, suggesting the Americans will have the Pacific war taken care of by the spring. Leonardo Da Vinci’s subtle yet professional map of central Italy blurs the line between precise cartography and expressive art, as do most of the pieces, until the grand finale: six large touch-screen computerized maps of the world. It’s bright, vivid and mind-numbingly accurate, but lacks the character of a crumpled and torn-up sheet with coffee stains or the boldness of a one-sided view of territorial boundaries (see John Mitchell’s 1755 map of how colonial North America ought to look). When it comes to cartography, a little bit of bias makes the end result far more absorbing. (Andy Seifert)
“Maps: Find Our Place in the World” opens November 2 at the Field Museum, 1400 South Lake Shore, (312)922-9410.