"How can you be two places at once when you're not anywhere at all?" is the old Firesign Theater line that is more profound than most of us are comfortable with. How do we know where we are in an age of space and cyberspace? If maps change as knowledge changes, if maps are remade as demarcations of power shift -- how do we name a place, a region?
Ten artists who have taken the quandaries of location, location, location to heart exhibited works at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis this spring and summer in a stimulating group show curated by Mel Watkin. Terra Incognita included the luscious works-on-paper of Nina Bovasso -- bright abstractions that could be construed as plots of a psychedelic township -- and Julie Mehretu, whose sharp-edged marks on canvas contain both attraction and menace. Kathy Prendergast had the best one-liner of the show, a map of America titled "Lost," with only places with the word "lost" in their name mapped out. Lordy Rodriguez makes maps of places that at first are recognizable, but then a shape that looks like the lower peninsula of Michigan has stenciled across it "New York."
Our best-in-show goes to the late Mark Lombardi, who obsessed mightily over international political and financial scandals, creating huge diagrams where lines arc toward the mysteries of conspiracy. Arrows are drawn from the names of Edward Heath, Alexander Haig and Wei Jiafu toward a circle signifying "China Ocean Shipping Co." Lombardi's diagrams are eerily beautiful, the way evil and corruption often are.