Museum Studies students curate new exhibition to celebrate maps as navigational tools, artworks

Andreas Cellarius’ “Ptolemaic World System,” on loan from the Joel Oppenheimer Gallery.

Andreas Cellarius’ “Ptolemaic World System,” on loan from the Joel Oppenheimer Gallery.

As part of the Northern Illinois University Art Museum’s upcoming Mapping Exhibition Suite, “MAPPING: Measuring Across Place and Period; Information, Navigation and Geography” features the evolution of maps as both tools for navigation and beautiful works of art.

This exhibition will be curated by NIU Museum Studies students enrolled in ART 656 and will be held in the South Gallery of the NIU Art Museum from Thursday, April 4, through Friday, May 24.

A public reception is planned from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 4.

This exhibition will focus on examining the historical evolution of mapping, from the antiquated maps used by early European scholars that merely hypothesized the shapes of various parts of the world, into the contemporary realm of cartography.

It also will focus on an appreciation of maps, not only as tools, but elegant works of art.

For example, many of the maps created by famed early map-makers, such as Gerardus Mercator or Abraham Ortellius, do not simply show geographical features, but also contain monsters, sailing ships, and gods as decorative elements. These early pieces of cartographic draftsmanship were not always intended for use as navigational aids, but were sometimes designed to adorn the homes of wealthy and scholarly members of the aristocracy.

Michael Dinges’ “Sundial,” on loan from the artist and Packer Schopf Gallery.

Michael Dinges’ “Sundial,” on loan from the artist and Packer Schopf Gallery.

The star charts, created by Andreas Cellarius, present an artistic facsimile of what scholars believed the solar system was like in the 17th century. In some cases, these works focus more heavily on the artistic interpretations of the constellations than the any real usable astronomical data.

However, these maps were offered as an accurate view of the world as it was perceived by the scholars at that point in history.

As time progressed, maps became more sophisticated but, for the most part, suffered in terms of visual appeal. Still, some maps maintained an artistic spirit while accurately representing the world, like the Buckminster Fuller Dymaxion Map, which is visually impressive, geographically accurate and designed to inspire its readers to visualize the world in a different way.

Despite the aesthetic setbacks that accompanied technological advances, contemporary artists are using the concepts of mapping and navigation to inspire their work, and once again, maps can be perceived as works of art.

Contemporary artists Brian Dettmer and Michael Dinges have looked to historical cartography to inspire their fascinating works about maps and geographical instrumentation. Their work serves as a prime example of the ways in which mapping lives on in contemporary visual culture.

NIU Art Museum logoLenders include the Blackwell Museum, NIU Founders Memorial Library Geography Collection and Rare Books Collection, Joel Oppenheimer Gallery, Packer Schopf Gallery, George Ritzlin Antique Maps, and various private collectors. Artists and cartographers include Petrus Apianus, Cellarius, Brian Dettmer, Dinges, Thomas Kitchin, Johannes Van Loon, John Ogilby and many more.

Located on the west-end first floor of Altgeld Hall, the galleries are open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and by appointment for group tours.

Exhibitions and lectures are free; donations are appreciated.

Pay parking is available in the visitor’s lot on Carroll Avenue and at metered spots in front of Altgeld Hall. Free parking is available Saturdays and during receptions and visiting artist lectures in the lot northeast of Gilbert and College Drives.

The exhibition is sponsored in part by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; the Friends of the NIU Art Museum; and the Dean’s Circle of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, NIU Foundation.

Call (815) 753-1936 for more information.

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