by Ruth Erickson. Yale University Press, October 2017. 215 p. ill. ISBN 9780300224078 (h/c), $50.00.
Reviewed May 2018
Mark Dion: Misadventures of a 21st Century Naturalist accompanies the 2017 exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (ICA), examining thirty years of the American artist’s investigations into how humans have historically collected, interpreted, and displayed nature. The catalog features more than seventy-five artworks by the artist including sculpture, drawings, and installations. While there are a number of publications about the work of Mark Dion, this is the first since Lisa Graziose Corrin’s 1997 publication Mark Dion (Phaidon) to offer a complete investigation into the full oeuvre of the artist.
The introductory essay by Ruth Erickson, curator at the ICA, provides insight into Dion’s artistic influences, process, and practice. Erickson organizes the artist’s work into three categories--fieldwork, excavation, and cultivation--allowing for a clear discussion of his methodology beyond time and place. The first half of the publication includes a collection of essays--which provide a range of new perspectives--and a recent interview with the artist. Each essay includes substantial endnotes and an author’s biography. The second half of the catalog features shorter essays covering specific projects and selections from the ICA exhibition.
The comprehensive exhibition chronology, checklist of items included in the ICA exhibition, and extensive selected bibliography are critical resources for researchers. The index provides a concise guide to the terminology, works, and people in the catalog.
The 250 color illustrations accompanying the catalog essays include drawings by the artist, photo reproductions of the artist on site, and photographs of installed works. Considering the ephemeral nature of Dion’s work, the inclusion of sharply reproduced illustrations covering a wide chronology makes this publication a valuable resource. The hardcover book features non-glossy pages allowing a pleasant tactile experience and a less-reflective examination of the color images.
Mark Dion: Misadventures of a 21st Century Naturalist is especially appropriate for any collection that focuses on contemporary American art, natural history, ecological issues, or cross-disciplinary studies. Furthermore, given the comprehensiveness of the catalog, if a collection is to have only one publication about the work of Mark Dion, this would be the recommended choice.