Howard House, 2017 Second Ave, 256-6399. Through March 9.
All but two of Matthew Picton's maps are rendered in plastic beads and resin, transforming a utility into a glittering string of jewels. They are both surprising and not, a formalist approach to a city's soul: New York Subway is a dense and complicated weave of vertical lines that swings suddenly to the right (Brooklyn), while Chicago "L" is minimalist-spare, utilitarian despite the colorful beads. As gorgeous and funny as these are, I love Picton's resin drawings even more, as in London Bus Map, a sprawling scribble of plastic translucence, here with bubbles suspended in it, there peeling itself off the wall as if suggesting its own topography.
The cleverness of this exhibit is the movement from dimensionality to flatness and back again. Maps, by definition, are reductive, no more and no less than the necessary information you need to get from here to there. The street names, but not the hearts broken on each corner; the bus stops, but not the shattered shop windows; facts, but not trends. Picton has turned the subway map into a kind of paradoxical surface/depth equation. These line drawings are actually sculpture, maps of the underground that are all about surface.
For comparison, he includes two works that are not actually maps, but function in similar ways. One is a drawing, in resin alone, of the Nile delta, the leaflike shape of which immediately tells you that you're not looking at a city, with its circular usage, but at something that moves in one direction only. The other is the resin-and-bead Cracked Pavement Sculpture, which does look a lot like a city map, proving something about nature and visual synchronicity, though I don't know what exactly.
Then, alone on a wall, is a single line of orange beads, a deserted road, a lonely strand of DNA floating around in the petri dish. It's a map of the Seattle Monorail, defiantly simple, isolated, useless, the shortest distance between two--and only two--points. EMILY HALL