New York

Mark Dion

Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

If Charles Willson Peale hadn’t existed, Mark Dion would have had to invent him. Peale—a onetime clocksmith, silversmith, saddler, revolutionary, portraitist, natural historian, inventor, agricultural reformer, and museologist—was a living archetype of the Jeffersonian polymath, embodying the impulse toward conquest through knowledge, categorization, and ratiocination that Dion explores and critiques in his own work. Peale comes to us as a figure in his famous self-portrait of 1822, where he stands before his Wunderkammer (portions of which would later be sold off to P. T. Barnum), raising a plush curtain to expose the illusory order within: shadowboxes, ornithological displays, a fully reconstructed mastodon, and so on. To render the pictorial structure homologous with its subject’s classificatory premise, the illusionism of the foreground gives way to a deeper perspectival system within

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