Introducing Mark Dion

By STEVE LUBAR

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Mark Dion spoke yesterday at the RISD Museum. Here’s my introduction.

I’ve had the privilege of working with Mark and a group of Brown and RISD students for the past few months on a remarkable project called “The Lost Museum.” It’s both easy and difficult to explain.

Here’s the easy version: we are re-imagining Brown University’s lost museum of natural history back into the building where it once was.

The difficult version… it has to do with longing and loss, with decay of things and knowledge, with order giving way to chaos. It is about legacies painstakingly built and then lost. It’s about a fight to build, to remember, and also, inevitably, about ruin and forgetting.

It’s about the past, the present and the future – but as seen from the point of view of museum artifacts, or of nature. Its about the humanity of museum collectors and curators, but also very much about the way their objects come to represent them, to capture, or to lose, their stories and their dreams.

It’s in some way a very sad story; a museum disappears and is forgotten. In other ways, though, it’s a story of survival and legacy redeemed. That’s a bit of a tease, I know: to find out more, please come to the opening of “The Lost Museum” on May 15, 6:30, in Rhode Island Hall, at Brown.

“The Lost Museum” is very much a Mark Dion project. What kind of artist is he? What are his materials?

He’s best known, perhaps, as an artist of Nature. Natural things: plants and animals and their remains.

But Mark’s Nature is rarely simply Nature. It is nature captured, classified, organized into categories and into cases.

And so that makes Mark an artist of ideas, and of museums. He has a remarkable ability to think like a museum; to ask questions about order and relationships. He is a sculptor of categories.

And that makes Mark an artist of history. His work connects past and present in intriguing ways. He sees how objects connect past and present, how they exist simultaneously in more than one moment of time.

And perhaps most interesting, Mark is an artist of people. Mark’s art is a social art, an art that brings people together. I’ve had the opportunity to see a bit of Mark’s travel schedule over the past year, and to watch him at work with the Jenks Museum group, and thus to understand a little of the way in which Mark’s art is as much about people as about things.

It is my pleasure to introduce Mark Dion, an artist of nature and museums, of history and people.

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