First U.S. Survey of Internationally Recognized Artist Spans 30 Years

The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) 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.

Mark Dion: Misadventures of a 21st-Century Naturalist will be accompanied by an illustrated publication, co-published with Yale University Press, with major essays by Erickson, James Nisbet, Sarina Basta, and Petra Lang-Berndt, as well as reflections by Lucy Bradnock, Andrea Barrett, Lisa Corrin, Denise Markonish, Alastair Gordon, Colleen Sheehy, and Sarah Suzuki, and an interview between Dion and the esteemed curator Mary Jane Jacob.

A symposium inspired by Dion’s practice will take place on October 12 and 13, 2017. Artists and scholars will deliver talks about their work and invite discussion on the cultural history and future of nature through various disciplinary perspectives. The ICA is organizing this event in partnership with the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, Lowell, and Boston; and Northeastern University.

Dion lives in New York City and received a BFA (1986) and an honorary doctorate (2003) from the University of Hartford School of Art, Connecticut. He also studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York from 1982-84 and participated in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study Program from 1984-85. He has received numerous awards, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Lucida Art Award (2008) and the ninth annual Larry Aldrich Foundation Award (2001).

Exhibition History
Dion’s work has been the subject of major exhibitions worldwide. Notable solo exhibitions include Mark Dion: Wayward Wilderness at Marta Herford in Herford, Germany (2015), Mark Dion: The Academy of Things at The Academy of Fine Arts Design in Dresden, Germany (2014), The Macabre Treasury at Museum Het Domein in Sittard, The Netherlands (2013), Oceanomania: Souvenirs of Mysterious Seas at Musée Océanographique de Monaco and Nouveau Musée National de Monaco / Villa Paloma in Monaco (2011), The Marvelous Museum: A Mark Dion Project at Oakland Museum of California (2010-11), Systema Metropolis at Natural History Museum, London (2007), The South Florida Wildlife Rescue Unit at Miami Art Museum (now Pérez Art Museum Miami) (2006), Rescue Archaeology, a project for The Museum of Modern Art (2004), and his renowned Tate Thames Dig at the Tate Gallery in London (1999).

Major support is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Additional support is generously provided by Jane and Robert Burke, Steve Corkin and Dan Maddalena, Jean-François and Nathalie Ducrest, and Cynthia and John Reed.