Terra Scoped

Contemporary Museum St. Louis discovers treasure with the help of some maps

Terra Incognita also includes artists who work more literally with maps, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Irish artist Kathy Prendergast's "Lost" (1999) is an accurate geographical map of the United States, though the city and town names have been replaced by variations on the "lost" theme: Lost Gulch, Lost Valley, Lost Creek. Prendergast attempts to undercut the sense of security and direction that maps normally deliver, but the piece is conceptually somewhat limited. Lordy Rodriguez fares much better with his maps, which perform warped feats of geographical switcheroo. Guillermo Kuitca's "San Juan de la Cruz" (1991) is a nightmarish roadmap of Mexico in which every large city is named San Juan de la Cruz, and every road leads there with stifling, inescapable sureness.

Rounding out the exhibit are outstanding works by Greg Colson, Nina Bovasso and Ron Laboray. Laboray's projected CD-ROMs, "Weather Machine" and "Moveable St. Louis" (2002), aren't particularly effective. But his paintings, "Wilma in Bedrock #1, U.S. Geological Survey" and "Fred in Bedrock #1, U.S. Geological Survey" (both 2002), are twisted, hilarious "mappings" of the cartoon characters' colors onto a schematic representation of Colorado and surrounding Western states. Laboray has produced a pseudoscientific geography of popular culture; it's absolutely brilliant.

Terra Incognita really shouldn't be missed. It's an exhibition that lives up to its imposing theme, in terms of the work and the artists themselves, who hail from all parts of the globe. Even more impressive is the fact that the show manages to be cliché-free while exploring territory that is usually rife with cliches. Kudos to the Contemporary.

Sabina Ott's "Partly North, Partly South" is easily the 
most optimistic work in the show.
Sabina Ott's "Partly North, Partly South" is easily the most optimistic work in the show.

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