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Art

Mark Dion Explores Sea Life

By Kristin Sancken

April 19, 2013

Visual artist Mark Dion has long been associated with blurring the boundaries between humanity and the natural environment through his exploratory and multifarious creative process. Best known for his intricate installations involving the study of science and nature, Dion has made it his artistic mission to challenge the traditional ways in which knowledge is presented through sculpture, photography, and works on paper.

His recent solo exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (February 28 – April 13) presented a memorable two-story survey of the artist’s work that included over 100 works on paper as well as six new sculptures highlighting a singular interest in sea life. “This exhibition was the latest in a lifetime of expressions,” the artist offered. “I think about what I do as a complex practice with many forms of expression which makes up meditation on the representation of nature. In a way it is one long argument, with many digressions, paradoxes and contradictions, but it is an attempt to understand our ideas about nature and how they have led us to behave in such an ecologically suicidal manner.”

For this exhibition, Dion recreated his own take on the traditional “cabinet of curiosity.” By displaying seemingly found objects and oceanic refuse in encased repositories, the artist transformed the ground floor of the gallery into a fictional museum-like atmosphere.

Central to the room was Trichechus manatus latirostris, a large manatee skeleton suspended in a glass case over an assortment of disarrayed, tar-covered novelties. Tar, a central theme in Dion’s work, often represents the oppressive effects humans have on organic materials. In this case, the trinkets reiterated this idea emphasizing the consequence of mass production on nature. Similarly, Marine Invertebrates, housed in a separate vitrine, combined ordinary consumer objects with models of aquatic organisms. This anomalous arrangement continues to bring into question existing notions of classification and inherent relationships between the natural and built environment.

Encrustations, a collaboration with artist Dana Sherwood inspired by San Francisco’s Fort Point, presented a collection a fabricated “artifacts” as a means of pinpointing the role imagination plays in the construction of scientific theory and historical truth.

Also on display was Sea Life, a replica of a cart containing nautical-themed books and texts, and The Documents, a case of papier-mâché sculptures made to look like Sterling Clark’s diaries during his expeditions to Northern China. Both of these installations shed light on the often misinterpreted understanding of history through popular literature, guide books, and the subjective act of journaling.

Mark Dion is an American fine artist best known for his use of scientific presentations in his installations. He has had major exhibitions at the Miami Art Museum (2006); the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2004); the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut (2003); and Tate Gallery, London (1999).He teaches at the visual arts department of Columbia University in New York City. He has received numerous awards, including the ninth annual Larry Aldrich Foundation Award in 2001.

Dion’s current and upcoming projects include Fake or Real? at the Minneapolis Museum of Arts (opening March 21, 2013), Mass MoCA Octagon Room installation (opening April 6, 2013), a project about the environment destruction of a river in Germany at the EMSCHERKUNST 2013 Triennial (June 22, 2013- October 6, 2013), MoMA Expo 1 (September 2013), and Surrealism Show at Centre Georges Pompidou curated by Deputy Director Didier Ottinger (Fall 2013).

Mark Dion

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