CROWN HEIGHTS — Painter Martin McCormack was taking one of his usual walks through New York City three years ago when a scrap of paper caught his eye. Two blocks later, he spotted another that intrigued him. He held the two scraps of paper together, and all at once something clicked.
For the next three years, the Bed-Stuy-based artist lived like a character out of a Paul Auster novel, obsessively amassing, arranging and decoding clues from the ditritus of city life — in his case, tiny maps like you'd see on the back of a takeout menu or tucked in a hip cafe on an up-and-coming block — as part of an all-consuming puzzle.
"It started as a joke – I said I bet if I went around the whole city I could make maps of the whole city. It was just a crazy madman's project in the beginning," McCormack said. "But I've been doing it for nearly three years and that's all I've been doing."
What began as a board two feet by four is will stand sixteen feet tall and ten feet wide when it goes on display to the public for the fisrt time this Friday.
"The Great New York City Mapping Project" will show as part of The Map is Not the Territory, an exhibit opening at Five Myles gallery on St. Johns Place between Franklin and Classon Avenues in Crown Heights this Friday.
The other half of the space will be devoted to artist Elizabeth White's project, "Knowledge and the Love of Mankind," which reinterprets 18th century physiognomy diagrams — that is, face maps — as simple line drawings.
"I liked the two pieces together because hers is quite minimal but with a grid form, while Martin's is quite maximal but also with the grid form," said curator Jessamyn Fiore, who designed the show and connected the artists with the 13-year-old gallery. "I wanted to put it in a context so the audience isn't just, 'Oh, this is a guy who put together a bunch of maps.'"
White said she was drawn to the diagrams both for their aesthetic appeal and for the weight of history behind them. The Enlightenment-era pseudo-science proposed to interpret the moral character of subjects by their facial features alone, a practice with sinister reverberations through modern history.
"It was meant as a code to help people decode strangers and evaluage them," White said. "I was also drawn to these illustrations because they’re these simple line drawings that are so minimal but are meant to carry so much meaning. That tension between the presence and absence of information."
The exhibit opens Friday at 6 p.m. and will continue through July 8.