Photographs by JaegerSloan. ©Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
All work by Mark Dion is copyright Mark Dion Studio, courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery.

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute presents a new installation by artist Mark Dion, Phantoms of the Clark Expedition, reflecting on the history of exploration and on an expedition to North China that the Institute’s founder Sterling Clark undertook in 1908. On view May 9 to August 3, 2012, the installation consists of a series of dioramas and sculptures representing objects and specimens that would have been used or collected during expeditions that occurred in that era. The installation is being presented at The Explorers Club at 46 East 70th Street in New York.

The Clark commissioned Dion to create the new work as part of the Institute’s commemoration of the centennial of the 1912 publication of Through Shên-kan: The Account of the Clark Expedition in North China, 1908–9, written by Sterling Clark and naturalist Arthur de Carle Sowerby. The Explorers Club site was selected both for its connections to the history of exploration and for its links to the Clark family’s history. The Tudor-style building was the former home of Sterling Clark’s brother Stephen, and is the current site of the Clark’s New York office.

Curated by Lisa G. Corrin, Ellen Philips Katz Director at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University and a former Clark Fellow, the Dion project features reinterpretations of dozens of objects similar to those typically used on expeditions or found in museums of natural history. After studying records and artifacts from Clark’s China expedition, Dion used his signature red and blue pencils to reinterpret the items in a series of drawings that became the basis of his installation. The drawings have been translated into unpainted papier-mâché sculptures of equipment and tools and surreal “specimens” which Dion describes as cartoons. From a giant moth pinned to a wall to an oversized squirrel, the artist plays with expectations of scale, causing viewers to think twice about what they are seeing.

Phantoms of the Clark Expedition provides a prelude to two exhibitions and a photographic presentation opening this summer at the Clark’s Williamstown campus. The related shows include Unearthed: Recent Archaeological Discoveries from Northern China (June 16–October 21, 2012), presenting recently excavated antiquities (fifth through eleventh centuries) from Shanxi and Gansu provinces that have never before been exhibited outside of China; Through Shên-kan: Sterling Clark in China (June 16–September 16, 2012), an exhibition of biological specimens, scientific equipment, historical photographs, and original documents related to Clark’s expedition; and Then & Now: Photographs of Northern China (June 16–September 16, 2012), a presentation of images by contemporary Chinese photographer Li Ju juxtaposed with the historic images from the Clark expedition that they replicate.

The four exhibitions have been organized by the Clark as part of a multi-year initiative connecting Sterling Clark’s pioneering work in China with contemporary audiences. In 2008, the Institute initiated a series of collaborations with Chinese arts agencies and museums to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Clark’s expedition’s centennial. These efforts culminate in the 2012 exhibitions that celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication of Through Shên-kan. The Clark’s China initiative continues in 2013 when its international tour of masterpieces from its collection of 19th-century French paintings opens at the Shanghai Museum.

This exhibition was organized by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. The exhibition and its interpretation are supported by the Fernleigh Foundation and by David Rodgers.

Click here to read the The New York Times article "The Know-it-All: The artist Mark Dion's passion? Everything"

Click here to read the Town & Country article "China Syndrome: Paying homage to the Far East explorations of a legendary art collector"

The Explorers Club installation provides a prelude to the Clark’s summer exhibition program in Williamstown, which will include an exhibition of recent archaeological discoveries from Northern China, as well as an exhibition on Clark’s China expedition featuring archival materials and scientific specimens collected during the trek.

The installation will be open through August 3. Admission is free.

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