ANATOMY OF DESIGN
Drawing comic parallels between human forms and man-made objects and
structures stretches back centuries, extending from Renaissance artists to
postmodern designers, and this penis-shaped subway map, created by Veit
Schuetz for an exhibit at the CAE Gallery New York City in 2000, is typical of
such metaphoric melds that are both absurd and logical.
Why sexual organs are so routinely conjured up in art is the stuff of
psychiatric colloquia. Sigmund Freud’s famously alleged quote goes, “Sometimes
a cigar is just a cigar,” but sometimes—in fact often—artists and designers do
see the strangest things in their mind’s eye and bring them vividly into focus.
Sometimes these are delusions, but sometimes . . . well, they may actually be
there. Given the serpentine nature of the New York subway, perhaps the
question is not why does Schuetz see a phallus in the intersection of train
lines and landmasses, but rather why not? And if he is just making it up, isn’t
his job as an artist to make the incredible credible?
When addressing the anatomy of design, few things are more
fascinating than actual human anatomy charts, both ancient and contemporary.
The amount of minute, graphic clinical detail the designer puts into creating an
accurate schematic of our species (indeed, any species) is astounding—and also
a bit frightening. Given the extent to which the body is jam-packed with
arteries, vessels, tissues, and organs, it is a wonder that the mechanism does
not experience more breakdowns than it does. But the idea that all these
components run more or less in sync, as in that anatomically illuminating
chestnut where the the shinbone is connected to the thighbone, is kind of
humbling. And this is not new. That Leonardo da Vinci, without benefit of X-ray
or MRI, was capable of rendering a profoundly viable anatomical diagram that
has been a model for both copied and revised versions up to the present day
is a testament to the ability of the artist and designer to compulsively provide
necessary information to all.
While anatomy charts are maps of the body, road and subway maps are
essentially diagrams of the skeletal and circulatory systems of cities or towns.
Navigation of both body and city would be nearly impossible without these
wayfinders. Even in the most primitive formats, they are so integral to daily
existence that maps are at the same time taken for granted and afforded great
status as designed works. In 1933, when Harry Beck designed the paradigmatic
modern map for the London Underground, he received only five guineas, but
today the map is not only still used (quite a bargain it was!) but also is the
model for others, including Massimo Vignelli’s New York City subway guide.
Maps are increasingly used by artists and designers to chart almost
everything, not just subway train lines but trains of thoughts and information
highways. They are literal, comical, and metaphorical. When wed to human
forms and functions, maps can also be ironic or droll commentaries on the
mechanics of everyday life. Of course, sometimes a penis-shaped subway line
is simply a penis-shaped subway line—and that is simply funny on its own
terms. For that matter, who ever heard of having penis map envy?
Penis Subway Map
Designer: Veit Schuetz
2000 CAE Gallery New York City, map
d,i: Veit Schuetz
Penis-shaped subway map created for an exhibition at the CAE Gallery New York City.
Anatomy of male genitalia
Artistic interpretation of anatomy
Visual interpretation of maps