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Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute opens Mark Dion Installation

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute presents a new installation by artist Mark Dion, Phantoms of the Clark Expedition, on view May 9 to August 3, 2012 reflecting on the history of exploration and on an expedition to North China that the Institute’s founder Sterling Clark undertook in 1908. The installation consists of a series of dioramas and sculptures representing objects and specimens that would have been used or collected during expeditions that occurred in that era. The installation is being presented at The Explorers Club at 46 East 70th Street in New York.

The Clark commissioned Dion to create the new work as part of the Institute’s commemoration of the centennial of the 1912 publication of Through Shên-kan: The Account of the Clark Expedition in North China, 1908–9, written by Sterling Clark and naturalist Arthur deCarle Sowerby. The Explorers Club site was selected both for its connections to the history of exploration and for its links to the Clark family’s history. The brick townhouse was the former home of Sterling Clark’s brother Stephen, and is the current site of the Clark’s New York office.

“Mark has created a provocative project with compelling connections to the idea of exploration and to early interest in northwest China,” said Michael Conforti, director of the Clark. “Mark’s work adds a fresh, contemporary dimension to our founder’s previously overlooked contribution to science and learning.”

The Dion installation is part of the ClarkNOW initiative announced late last year – a program of some 60 exhibitions, events and activities taking place in New York, at the Clark in Williamstown, and at international venues as it extends its reach and engagement during the final construction phase of its campus enhancement program.

Mark Dion’s work examines the ways in which dominant ideologies and public institutions shape understanding of history, knowledge, and the natural world. The job of the artist, he says, is to go against the grain of dominant culture, to challenge perception and convention. Appropriating archaeological and other scientific methods of collecting, ordering, and exhibiting objects, Dion creates works that question the distinctions between ”objective” (rational) scientific methods and ”subjective” (irrational) influences. The artist’s spectacular and often fantastical curiosity cabinets, modeled on wunderkabinetts of the sixteenth century, exalt atypical orderings of objects and specimens.

By locating the roots of environmental politics and public policy in the construction of knowledge about nature, Dion questions the authoritative role of the scientific voice in contemporary society. He has received numerous awards, including the ninth annual Larry Aldrich Foundation Award (2001) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Lucelia Artist Award (2008). He has had major exhibitions at the Miami Art Museum (2006); The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2004); Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut (2003); and Tate Gallery, London (1999). “Neukom Vivarium” (2006), a permanent outdoor installation and learning lab for the Olympic Sculpture Park, was commissioned by the Seattle Art Museum. Dion received a BFA (1986) and an honorary doctorate (2003) from the University of Hartford School of Art, Connecticut. He lives and works in New York.

Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
225 South Street, Williamstown, MA 01267

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