Systema Naturae

Mark Dion is an American conceptual artist whose practice examines the history of the museum and the presentation of knowledge. Through a rigorous examination and recreation of traditional methods of display, he calls into question the hierarchies of the aesthetics and conventions of historical proof and reason. “I identify with the mission of the museum, where you go to gain knowledge through things,” the artist explains. “Museums are time capsules. They embody the values of their time. In the 19th century, the polar bear was presented as a fearful monster with sharp claws. Nowadays as a vulnerable creature that needs to be protected". Dion often uses the artifice of an archaeological or scientific tone in his work to complicate the viewers’ experience of whether to trust or distrust the ideas presented in his work.

In the exhibition Systema Naturae the artist continues to examine themes common to his practice. Dion’s work explores the ways in which dominant ideologies and public institutions shape our 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, field ecology 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 Wunderkammen of the 16th and 17th century, exalt atypical orderings of objects and specimens. Dion also frequently collaborates with museums of natural history, aquariums, zoos, and other institutions mandated to produce public knowledge on the topic of nature. By locating the roots of environmental politics and public policy in the construction of knowledge about nature, Mark Dion questions the objectivity and authoritative role of the scientific voice in contemporary society, tracking how pseudo-science, social agendas and ideology creep into public discourse and knowledge production.

The exhibition Systema Naturae boasts an abundance of new work: with over 45 works on paper, drawings, and prints, as well as new sculpture. In Systema Naturae the artist further investigates categorization and reference building through the lens of natural science, art history and the larger than life, almost fantastical aspects of our time. Unique to Dion’s first solo show in Sweden is also the collaboration with Swedish museum and print making consortium, Grafikens Hus. The exhibition introduces a brand-new limited edition lithograph print by the artist, titled Paradoxa, 2023. The print plays on the science and pseudo-science of the Swedish botanist and naturalist Carl von Linné. In this new edition the artist has drawn the creatures that Linné deemed unfit for his volumes of flora and fauna categorization. Saskia Neuman Gallery aptly resides on Linnégatan (taking its name from the explorer). The street leads into Humlegården (the nearby park) and a statue of Carl von Linné, erected in 1885. The famed Linné plantation, which include 21 000 species of plants, surrounds the monument in the park. In addition to the close collaboration with Grafikens Hus, the Swedish technological perfumery No Ordinary Scent has crafted a scent, Cabinet de Curiosites, inspired the artist’s work. A small vial of the signature scent will be available with each purchased print, incased in a sleeve with a new specialty stamp made by the artist.

Mark Dion was born in 1961 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He initially studied in 1981-2 at the Hartford Art School of the University of Hartford in Connecticut, which awarded him a BFA (1986) and honorary doctorate (Ph.D) in 2002. From 1983 to 1984 he attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and then the prestigious Whitney Museum of American Art's Independent Study Program (1984-1985). He is an Honorary Fellow of Falmouth University in the UK (2014) and has an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (Ph.D.) from The Wagner Free Institute of Science in Philadelphia (2015).

Dion has received numerous awards, including the ninth annual Larry Aldrich Foundation Award (2001) The Joan Mitchell Foundation Award (2007) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Lucida Art Award (2008) and was a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient in 2019. He has had major exhibitions at the Miami Art Museum (2006); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2004); Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, Connecticut (2003); Tate Gallery, London (1999), and the British Museum of Natural History in London (2007). “Neukom Vivarium” (2006), a permanent outdoor installation and learning lab for the Olympic Sculpture Park, was commissioned by the Seattle Art Museum. Dion produced a major permanent commission, ‘OCEANOMANIA: Souvenirs of Mysterious Seas’ for the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco. In 2016 Dion and his curatorial collaborator Sarina Basta produced the large-scale exhibition, ExtraNaturel: Voyage initiatique dans la collection des Beaux-Arts de Paris, at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

For over two decades Dion has worked in the public realm in a wide range of scales, from architecture projects to print interventions in newspapers. Some of his most recent large scale public project include "The Amateur Ornithologist Clubhouse" a Captain Nemo-like interior constructed in a vast gas tank in Essen, Germany, and "Den" a large-scale folly in Norway's mountainous landscape which feature a massive sculpture of a sleeping bear in a cave, resting on a hill of material culture form the neolithic to the present. Dion has also produced large scale permanent commissions for Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, the Montevideo Biannale in Uruguay, The Rose Art Museum, Johns Hopkins University, the city of Stavoren, Holland and the Port of Los Angeles. Mark Dion is co-director of Mildred's Lane an innovative visual art education and residency program in Beach Lake, Pennsylvania.

In October 2017, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston hosted "Mark Dion: Misadventures of a Twenty First Century Naturalist", the largest American survey to date of the artist work. In February 2018 the survey exhibition "Mark Dion: Theatre of the Natural World", was presented at The Whitechapel Gallery in London. In the Summer of 2019, "Mark Dion: Follies", was the featured exhibition at Storm King Art Center, in New York State. “The Perilous Texas Adventure of Mark Dion” was Dion’s exhibition at The Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth in 2020. Like many of Dion’s exhibitions there is a complex and beautiful accompanying catalog of the project.

Dion lives with his wife and frequent collaborator Dana Sherwood in Copake, New York and works worldwide.