Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art's groundbreaking MATRIX 173 features artist Mark Dion

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Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art's groundbreaking MATRIX 173 features artist Mark Dion
Albert Bierstadt, In the Yosemite Valley, 1866, Oil on canvas, The Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt Collection, 1905.22.

HARTFORD, CONN.- Continuing the 40th anniversary celebration of its groundbreaking MATRIX exhibition series, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is presenting the Mark Dion / MATRIX 173 exhibition, “The Wadsworth Atheneum’s Great Chain of Being,” Oct. 1, 2015 – Jan. 3, 2016.

New York artist Mark Dion (American, born 1961) attended Hartford Art School in the early 1980s and, as a young artist, found inspiration and delight in the Wadsworth Atheneum’s collection. Dion has returned to Hartford many times over the past three decades and continues to be a presence at the Wadsworth. In 2006, the museum acquired Dion’s “Providence Cabinet” (2001)―a curiosity cabinet of cultural artifacts collected from one of three “New England Digs”―for the collection. Since 1991, the museum has also developed an impressive collection of Dion’s works on paper.

For his MATRIX project, Dion combines the museum’s collection with his practice of investigating the intersection of art and the history of science, applying proto-scientific systems with museum practices. He will develop a hierarchical chain of living creatures to create a Wadsworth-specific version of “The Great Chain of Being” (based on Greek philosopher Aristotle’s ancient model) through details of paintings, sculptures and decorative arts found in the museum’s collection.

“I am absolutely thrilled that Mark Dion has taken such an intensive interest in our various collections and that his MATRIX project generously samples these holdings with his singular approach and artistic vision,” said Patricia Hickson, Emily Hall Tremaine Curator of Contemporary Art. “We are fortunate to add Mark to the ranks of accomplished artists who have participated in the MATRIX program.”

The concept that all living things arranged in a continuous gradation from the simplest living form to the most noble, is one of the most dominant ideas in the Western intellectual tradition, and one of the most absurd and destructive as it sets up a class system determined by those in power. As is often the case, Dion takes on this essential foundational concept from the history of consciousness with humor and criticality; His project ridicules the great chain rather than celebrates it.

From the least important form of life to the greatest, Dion’s “Great Chain” includes invertebrates and arthropods, fish and reptiles, birds and dogs, mammals and humans, monsters and angels, and, finally, the Devil and God. The series of 125 photographs depict details of various masterpieces from the walls, pedestals, and storage vaults of the museum. Dion’s complete photographic series will be acquired by the museum for the permanent collection.

The “Great Chain” is being presented in order—following the classical version—in horizontal and vertical lines throughout the gallery. Shown as circular artistic details, removed from their original contexts in overall compositions, the isolated creatures might stimulate visitors’ curiosities, driving them through the museum in the interest of finding the original source works. Dion’s “Great Chain” benefits from the quality and breadth of the collection, but is also circumscribed by its limits. Dion’s eclectic selection reveals different forms and styles of art making, which is emblematic of the diversity of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art’s collection.

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