The Amon Carter Museum of American Art has opened The Perilous Texas Adventures of Mark Dion, an exhibition created in collaboration with contemporary conceptual artist Mark Dion inspired by holdings in the museum’s collection.
Commissioned by the Carter, Dion underwent a series of journeys through Texas retracing the footsteps of nineteenth-century explorers including ornithologist and artist John James Audubon, watercolorist Sarah Ann Lillie Hardinge, travel writer and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, and botanist Charles Wright. The result of these trips is a site-specific, large-scale installation created by Dion coupled with works on paper, paintings, and archival materials from the Carter’s collection on view February 8 through May 17, 2020.
“We are excited to present the culmination of more than five years of preparation and exploration that went into The Perilous Texas Adventures of Mark Dion,” stated Andrew J. Walker, Executive Director. “The Amon Carter Museum of American Art’s ongoing commitment to work with living artists to make connections to our collection is beautifully demonstrated in this exhibition, which celebrates our holdings and the adventurous spirit of the history of Texas.”
Dion, whose work uses history as a touchstone, is among the most highly regarded artists working today. He mimics the adventures of explorers, historians, and naturalists, and he is an avid collector of curiosities. His large-scale installations are evocations of the past in their materials and ethos, but they address today’s culture head-on with intellect and humor. Through this exhibition, the museum is able to deepen engagement with history by bringing the past into the present day.
The name of exhibit is intended to be humorous because though Dion didn’t really encounter any perils, those who came before him certainly did, according to Amon Carter officials.
“This type of Mark Dion exhibition could only happen here at the Carter,” said Curator Margaret C. Alder. “Our amazing artworks featuring the best of nineteenth-century American artist-explorers were the muse that sent Mark across Texas, from the live oaks of King Ranch and the beaches of the Gulf Coast to Whataburger and the heat of El Paso in summertime. The result is a collection of oddities from
teeth to plants that proves there is no way of fully knowing Texas and that there is so much left to explore.”
This Saturday, Feb. 8, at 1 p.m., Dion will give a talk and sign Carter catalogs.
Over the course of two years, Dion visited several areas of Texas, including Fort Worth, the Gulf Coast, West Texas, King Ranch, Austin, and San Antonio. Dion’s traversing of the state—more than 150 years after Audubon, Hardinge, Olmsted, and Wright visited—enhances our understanding of the past and ultimately brings it to life in the present day. During Dion’s journeys he was accompanied by travel guides specific to each region, including fellow artists; botanists; and a Comanche artist, educator, and poet, among others.
Dion’s detailed exhibition tells the story of artist-explorers, building from the museum’s historical collection and concluding with Dion’s own travels through Texas. The Perilous Texas Adventures of Mark Dion is organized along three main sections: • The Phenomenon of the Artist Explorer The history of the artist-explorer tradition is told through three different artistic approaches to traveling. Works by artists who served as naturalists, such as Martin Johnson Heade and Alexander Wilson, highlight critical roles artists serve in expanding our understanding of the natural world through visual documentation. The complexity and problematic aspects of outsiders interpreting native cultures will be examined through work by artists such as Karl Bodmer and George Catlin. This section also includes works by Albert Bierstadt, William Henry Jackson, and Thomas Moran; some of the first artists to survey the western regions of the country, their art emphasizes the vastness of the landscape in paintings, photographs, and prints.
Concerning Texas The story of easterners who became Texas explorers—John James Audubon, Sarah Ann Lillie Hardinge, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Charles Wright—is explored through Audubon’s prints; Hardinge’s watercolors, letters, land-claim map, and related ephemeral material; Olmsted’s writings; and Wright’s letters and plant specimens. • A Contemporary Yankee Explores Unknown Regions of Texas Dion’s site-specific installation includes a combination of his own creations and objects collected during his journeys, which he considers his artist supplies, displayed in a series of custom curio cabinets. From weathered bones to cereal specimens, Dion’s vibrant collection expands the idea of creative exploration. Accompanying the installation will be his own renderings of plants and animals, scrapbooks, and more that follow the evolution of the idea of the artist-naturalist and artist-explorer of the early 1800s through today.
The exhibition also features a documentary film, debuting at the Carter on March 7, 2020, about Dion’s travels, produced by Erik Clapp and commissioned by the Carter. The film illuminates Dion’s artistic vision and process, capturing the exploration and imagination of his journeys as the commission evolves into its final installation in the exhibition.
The museum will provide a number of community, educational, and interactive experiences throughout the exhibition’s run. On February 8 from 1–3 p.m., the Carter will host an Artist Talk and book signing with Mark Dion. Dion will explain the preparation for his exhibition and how he retraced the footsteps of these notable explorers. . On March 7, the museum will host A Day of Perilous Adventures, an exhibition celebration where visitors of all ages will be able to embark on a journey into the collection of
curiosities and oddities that Dion gathered on his travels. From 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., activities will include art making; interactive experiences; the premiere of the documentary followed by a panel discussion with the film director, curator, and some of the guides from Dion’s travels; and more. For dates, details, and tickets, visit cartermuseum.org/markdion.