The big draw of Mark Dion’s exhibition at the members-only, Upper East Side Explorers Club is, unsurprisingly, the club itself. But Dion seems to have anticipated the distractions posed by the club’s exclusivity and the exotic appeal of its artifact displays from around the world by offering an installation of all-white sculptures that literally contrasts its colorful surroundings.
With his history of creating museum-like displays that question how we categorize information and pursue scientific enquiry, Dion seems like the perfect artist for the Clark Art Institute’s commission to commemorate the 100th anniversary of a publication by Singer Sewing Machine heir Robert Sterling Clark (whose brother’s old residence now houses the club) documenting his 1908 specimen-gathering expedition to northern China.
Dion responded by crafting a catalogue of items representing those taken on the Clark expedition, including barrels and boxes of supplies, tools arranged carefully on a long table, a Chinese rock squirrel scaled up to eight times its normal size, a wild boar and a cooking fire. Sculpted in white celluclay (and white furry material for the squirrel), each item stands out as particularly unnatural amid the ‘Trophy Room’s’ hunting lodge décor.
The barrels recall Gary Simmons’ white backwoods liquor brewing stills, both of which take objects out of context to question the context itself, while the huge squirrel is hard to take seriously, looking like a giant stuffed animal from the polar regions. Removed from their native locations and uses, Dion’s whited-out objects are made unavoidably strange, and they resist absorption into a narrative of daring discovery.