The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston opens major, mid-career retrospective of Mark Dion

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The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston opens major, mid-career retrospective of Mark Dion
Mark Dion, South Florida Wildlife Rescue: Mobile Laboratory, 2006, mixed media, 91 × 227 × 107 in. (231.1 × 576.6 × 271.8 cm). Pérez Art Museum Miami; Gift of Lin Lougheed. Photo by Tim McAfee. © Mark Dion.

BOSTON, MASS.- The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston presents the first U.S. survey of the American artist in Mark Dion: Misadventures of a 21st-Century Naturalist. Dion has forged a distinct, interdisciplinary practice by exploring and appropriating scientific methodologies to question how we collect, interpret, and display nature. On view October 4, 2017 through December 31, 2017, the exhibition covers the last 30 years and brings together several hundred objects—including live birds, books, curiosity cabinets, plant and animal specimens, vintage photos, and much more—offering a rare look at the unique course of the artist’s practice. The exhibition is organized by Ruth Erickson, Mannion Family Curator, with Jessica Hong, Curatorial Associate, and Kathrinne Duffy, Research Fellow.

“Dion’s sculptures and installations are full of the wonder of the world, and he brings a welcome earnestness for what we, as a society, see, make, discard, discount, and prize. Dion combines this sense of amazement with a piercing awareness of what we risk when we squander our natural resources and contribute to their demise,” said Jill Medvedow, the ICA’s Ellen Matilda Poss Director. “We are particularly pleased that this exhibition, his first museum survey in North America, is just up the road from the beaches and marshlands of New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Mark grew up and where his curiosity and treasure hunts began.”

Dion has created sculptures, installations, prints, drawings, and public projects that capture the imagination, but also critique the power assumptions within the scientific study of natural history—for example, the placement of “man” at the top of animal hierarchies. His work invites viewers to reexamine the history and development of human knowledge about the natural world, connecting these beliefs to environmental politics and public policy in the age of the Anthropocene.

“Using archaeological and other scientific methods of collecting, ordering, and exhibiting objects, Dion acts as an intermediary between times and disciplines, and between the cultural and natural worlds,” said Erickson. “His work reveals that nature, for all the resources and pleasures it gives us, is a primary area for the expression of power and ideology.”

Mark Dion: Misadventures of a 21st-Century Naturalist presents more than 20 of the artist’s most significant artworks, as well as a newly commissioned interactive sculpture and a salon titled The Time Chamber containing ephemera, journals, prints, and drawings. The exhibition’s organization was influenced by the methods Dion has developed over the past three decades. It begins with collecting as an activity foundational to knowledge, and then moves into fieldwork, excavation, and cultivation. Each approach has been necessary to the acquisition of information about the natural world. With these techniques as the exhibition’s organizing principle, visitors can better understand the genesis of Dion’s practice and, in turn, those of art history and the museum.

Exhibition Highlights
Playing with the scale differences present in Dion’s work, the exhibition includes immersive single-room installations, expansive galleries of sculptures, and an intimate salon room with three-dimensional models of major public artworks. In all of these works, Dion marries conversations of science with those of the art museum, revealing the interrelationships between the two as sources of knowledge and truth.

• Seminal pieces The N.Y. State Bureau of Tropical Conservation (1992) and Toys ’R’ U.S. (When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth) (1994) offer two strikingly distinct collections—a storeroom of natural specimens gathered from a Venezuelan rainforest; and a child’s dinosaur-themed bedroom—reflecting on consumption, extinction, and the global environmental crisis.

• In Rescue Archeology (2005), a project not seen since its creation, Dion excavated the grounds of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, during a major expansion, salvaging and displaying fragments of wallpaper, mantles, and ceramics to uncover the museum’s material origins at a moment of irreversible change.

• In the immersive The Library of the Birds of New York / The Library for the Birds of Massachusetts (2016/2017), Dion will place in a gallery a 20-foot cage that houses live finches and canaries commingling with the accessories of ornithology—nets, binoculars, and books—arranged around a tree. The library about birds becomes a library for them, a home and site of spectacle within the museum.

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