Öyvind Fahlström

Sketch for World Map Part 1 (Americas, Pacific)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Öyvind Fahlström 1928–1976
Lithograph on paper
Image: 887 x 1022 mm
Purchased 2002


Sketch for World Map Part 1 (Americas, Pacific) is an offset black and white lithograph printed on newsprint for the May, 1972, issue of the American New Left journal Liberated Guardian. The print run was approximately 7,300 but only about 300 copies are thought to be extant. It is a detail taken from the smaller ink drawing Sketch for World Map, 1972, which, besides the South American and the Pacific narratives shown here includes commentary on Europe, the former Soviet Union, Africa, the Middle East and East Asia. This map is not geographic but represents the political, military and economic expansion of post-Second World War America across the world. The structure developed here is a preliminary study for the brightly coloured World Map, 1972, and the Column series of screenprints (Tate P78631 and P78632) which also use dense text, and cartoon-like illustrations to make similar critiques. He hoped to produce prints in unlimited runs to be sold for the price of a book. Sketch for World Map Part 1 (Americas, Pacific) was the closest he came to this goal and subsequent print runs were limited to fewer than 300 for financial reasons.

Fahlström grew up in Brazil and in July 1939 was sent to Sweden, where he became trapped following the outbreak of the Second World War. After the war he divided his time between Stockholm, Paris and Rome. In this period he was a founding member of the Concrete Poetry movement, and turned to drawing in the spring of 1952 when he was in Rome. The combination of text and image in these late prints reflect his background as a writer as well as the influence of the French poets Antonin Artaud (1896–1948) and Henri Michaux (1899–1984) on his thought. In 1961 he moved to New York where he lived and worked until his death in 1976.

One approach to understanding the formal structure of these works lies in Fahlström’s admiration for cartoons. He recognised the subversive potential of the irreverent, surreal and sexualised narratives of MAD magazine and cartoonists like Robert Crumb (born 1943), which were an important part of the American counterculture. As in cartoons, the images and language in Sketch for World Map Part 1 (Americas, Pacific) reinforce and lend emphasis to each other. Unlike cartoonists, however, Fahlström did not use a grid layout to convey a linear narrative. The complexity of the information he presents is such that there are too many interconnections and simultaneous narratives to be organised sequentially. Instead, he divides the images into small information bubbles that weave together, interlacing tangential threads into a non-linear network. Fahlström explained:

World Map … is a historical map of the world, approx. 1970. Most of it is about the Third World: economic exploitation, repression, liberation movements, USA: the recession economy. [In the final version of World Map] Europe is represented by a Swedish manual for diplomats’ wives (the chapter ‘In the event of revolution’). – The shapes of the countries are defined by the data about them. It is a medieval type of map.
(Quoted in Barcelona, p.258)

The principal themes of Sketch for World Map Part 1 (Americas, Pacific) address the relations between American economic expansion into the developing world and American support for military coups and right wing regimes in those countries. Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon are accused of supporting the overthrow of democratically elected socialist governments in Latin America in order to open up new markets for American corporations and generate arms sales paid for with American aid and high interest loans. They are also accused of allowing human rights abuses in the USA and of conducting an economic policy that exacerbates the hardship faced by black Americans and black Vietnam veterans in particular. Fahlström creates montages of statistics quoted from newspapers and magazines to suggest that the American government and corporations operate with hidden motives and are asset-stripping the economies of poorer countries. The profits being taken from those countries are offset against the political instability and social costs created by these policies.

Sketch for World Map Part 1 (Americas, Pacific) was printed by Triggs Color Printing Corp., New York and published by the artist.

Further reading
Öyvind Fahlström, exhibition catalogue, The Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum, New York 1982
Öyvind Fahlström – The Installations, exhibition catalogue, Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst, Bremen and Cologne Kunstverein 1995, reproduced p.79
Öyvind Fahlström: Another Space for Painting, exhibition catalogue, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona 2001

Ben Borthwick
February 2003

Display caption

Fahlström’s map of the Americas and the Pacific Rim represents the economic, military and political forces shaping the region rather than its physical geography. The combination of political radicalism and irreverent, cartoon-like style reflects Fahlström’s admiration for the underground comics of the 1960s. He described the work as ‘a historical map of the world, approx. 1970. Most of it is about the Third World: economic exploitation, repression, liberation movements. ...The shapes of the countries are defined by the data about them.’

Gallery label, November 2006

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