The glorious London Tube map of Harry Beck is the first thing one thinks of when the words ‘map’ and ‘transport’ are wielded. The evolution of Beck’s map gets some coverage at London Transport Museum’s latest exhibition, but the show is stolen by a number of lesser known stars.
The first you encounter is Susan Stockwell. Her map of the world made from transport tickets is not only a work of beauty, but also commemorates a passing era. It simply wouldn’t work with Oyster cards. Then there’s the map of subterranean London by Stephen Walter, which held the awe of last night’s visitors for longer than any other piece in the exhibition.
MacDonald ‘Max’ Gill gets the most space, and justifiably so. The artist is often overshadowed by his more famous brother, typographer and sculptor Eric Gill, but his cartoonish maps of London were hugely popular back in the 1920s. Here we find several of his posters, including the Wonderground map of London. Gill’s final drawing, a partially complete pen ink sketch of the Aldwych area, is a mesmerising insight into this forgotten hero’s working technique.
The upper deck belongs to Harry Beck and those who came after him. Simon Patterson’s The Great Bear holds a special place among map geeks. Now 20 years old, his bastardised Tube map with famous names instead of Tube stations sparked a cottage industry in alternative maps. To celebrate the anniversary, he’s produced a new version, on display here. Elsewhere, a display of recent artwork from the covers of Tube maps shows just what a mixed bag they’ve been, and a set of fascinating maps created by Jeremy Wood show his routes around town as recorded by GPS.
Touch-screen interactives are so often a pointless diversion. The museum has good form in this area, however, including some truly impressive technology in its previous ‘Sense and the City’ exhibition. Again, we get to play with fun software, including an interactive that maps emotions to Tube stations. After a few hours of input, it didn’t look good for Barking. The combined results after a few months will be fascinating.
Mapping exhibitions are nothing new. There have been at least six in London in the past two years. But by blending historical maps with recent art, and commissioning numerous pieces specifically for this exhibition, London Transport Museum has truly delivered something memorable and original. The involvement of ‘young consultants’, a group of teenagers whom the museum involved through all stages of the exhibition’s planning, is the icing on the cake.
Mind the Map runs at London Transport Museum until 28 October. Entry is included in the normal ticket price.