Tuesday Top or Bottom: Mark Dion vs. Mark Dion

Tuesday Top or Bottom: Mark Dion vs. Mark Dion

Today’s Tuesday might as well be called Reason vs. Cat’s Obsessive Fangrildom. Of all the artists I’ve admired but never met, Dion has had the greatest impact on my own work. I can still remember the first time his work was shown in my watercolor class- I was a junior at the time, feeling the icy breath of graduation on my neck and a rising panic that I, a Painter Who Paints, found myself hating what I was painting. Mark Dion’s work was, and continues to be, a smack to the forehead ‘duh.’-Based on premises that are usually simple, complicated, absurd and serious all at once, I nearly always walk away thinking ‘Damn. Why didn’t I think of that??’ He’s also my go-to example for how conceptual art can be thoughtfully executed with an attention to detail and craft, as well as aesthetically pleasing (shoddily-made conceptual art as well as the idea it perpetuates ((that conceptual artists are just lazy)) are high on my list of pet peeves. Along with loud bass in cars)

Before I get too caught up in soap-boxing or the Dion Personality Cult, let me present to you today’s top or bottom (both by Mark Dion)

The Department of Marine Animal Identification of the City of New York (Chinatown Division)

For The Department of Marine Animal Identification of the city of New York (Chinatown Division), Dion bought one of every fish he could in the Chinatown Fish market, then sorted, recorded and displayed them in the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery using his own methods of classification, rather than that accepted by SCIENCE. The real cherry on top, for me, is that he did all this sorting and preserving in the gallery itself in a sort of performance.


Neukom Vivarium (exterior)

Neukom Vivarium (interior)

Neukom Vivarium is a custom-designed, 80 foot long greenhouse structure housing a 60-ft long rotting hemlock log. The building features tools to help visitors explore the log including magnifying glasses and white tiles painted with specimens found in and on the log (functioning as a sort of text-less ‘field guide’)

In MD’s one words “One of the things that’s difficult about this piece is that it’s hard to locate where the work is. It’s not the tree, and it’s not the building, and it’s not the details like the tiles or the field guide. But it’s really the entire thing.” (from art21’s interview)


(then go and watch art21’s Ecology episode, featuring Dion along with Robert Adams, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, and Ursula von Rydingsvar.)

((then go watch every other art21 episode))

(((then come over and have tea and we can talk about them all)))


3 thoughts on “Tuesday Top or Bottom: Mark Dion vs. Mark Dion

  1. I chose these pieces because they both seem to start with a similar concept (taking the natural world and dissecting/classifying it using the methods and attention to detail of a scientist but with his own, personal logic. Each one, however, represents a totally different scale. The tree is just downright impressive- both in size (80. foot. building.) and in scope, relying on countless other people to help make it happen/keep it going.

    The Marine identification, however, is much simpler and smaller. Even though I’m pretty sure he used assistants (as ‘lab’ assistants), for the most part the project is simple enough to be carried out just with himself, while still raising all the questions raised by Neukom Vivarium. I also love the idea of studying natural organisms in an unnatural/manmade ecosystem. Win.

    The Department of Marine Animal Identification of the City of New York wins for me.

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