Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mark Dion's installations

What distinguished cabinets of curiosity, the precursors of today's museums, was the juxtaposition of disparate specimens to show their variety. American artist Mark Dion achieves just that in his installations. The New York Times speaks of "the curious mix of obsession and emotion on display." Sometimes Dion centers on an individual, like American naturalists William Bartram (1739-1823) or Alexander Wilson (1766–1813). He has the enviable privilege of combing through the specimens in storage (1st image) and assembling them into triumphant visual displays of natural history objects in hand-built cabinets. "Appropriating archaeological and other scientific methods of collecting, ordering, and exhibiting objects, Dion creates works that question the distinctions between 'objective' ('rational') scientific methods and 'subjective' ('irrational') influences. The artist’s spectacular and often fantastical curiosity cabinets, modeled on Wunderkabinetts of the sixteenth century, exalt atypical orderings of objects and specimens," reads his bio from the Art 21 series on PBS. While his work has graced art museums and galleries (2nd image, a preparatory drawing for his 1999 piece at the Museum of Modern Art) around the world in group and solo exhibitions, it is his assemblages specific to individual science and natural history museums* - some of them installed permanently - that I find particularly compelling. Sibella Court comments that the process is as important as the finished piece. Dion himself writes: "By critically analyzing the master narratives and techniques of display employed by the institution, I can discern the ideology embedded in them. Being critical may also be just another way to love these museums." Mark Dion has delivered many lectures and received numerous awards. Read more about his work here.

*Here is a partial list:
Musée Océanographique, Monaco
Springhornhof Institute of Neolithic Archeology, Germany 

Natural History Museum, England (3rd image)
Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature,France
Historisches Museum, Germany
Fabric Workshop and Museum, United States

Musée Gassendi and la Reserve Geologique de Haute Provence, France
University of Tokyo Museum, Japan
National Railway Museum, England 

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