About Mark Dion

Born 1961 in New Bedford, Massachusetts; lives and works in New York. Mark Dion’s best-known sculptures are his seductive and often fantastical cabinets of curiosity. Modeled on seventeenth-century Wunderkammern (literally, “chambers of wonder”), Dion’s displays are filled with animal, vegetable, and mineral specimens along with what appear to be archaeological artifacts and ethnographic curiosities. He arranges these objects according to a system that depends as much on personal taste as on scientific method. By mimicking the syntax of Wunderkammern—as well as that of natural history and art museums—Dion brings to light the ways in which the collection and display of objects influence our relationship to nature, history, and culture. His artistic methodology is itself one of mimicry: to make his installations, Dion adopts the roles of scientist, curator, archaeologist, and scholar while never pretending to be a specialist in any one field. Instead he plays the enthusiastic amateur, the dilettante. In doing so, he has said, “I’m examining the trappings of authority, the signs of authority.”¹Playing off the signs of authority within the world of academia, Dion recently created a two-part installation titled Waiting for the Extraordinary (2011). Consisting of a waiting room and a small Wunderkammer, the work was created for the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and is based on a system from the origins of the school in 1816: the “Catholepistemiad, or University of Michigania,” in which the university was to have thirteen professorships, each titled with an invented mash-up of Latin and Greek words. Using this system as a starting point, Dion found objects and props that could best represent these classifications of learning and then had many of these artifacts reproduced using 3-D rapid-prototype technology and coated them in phosphorescent paint. Through modern technology, the Wunderkammer becomes a hybrid representation of the past and present. But Dion’s installation requires visitors who wish to enter to first take a number and wait their turn, simulating the banal experience of waiting encountered in most every institution.