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Artist Mark Dion Retraced the Steps of Past Adventurers Traveling Through Texas

Artist Mark Dion picked up a few things on his travels.
Artist Mark Dion picked up a few things on his travels. courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art

An antique baby buggy full of sun-bleached animal bones, a rusty aerosol can missing its spray nozzle and plastic buckets brimming with other assorted oddities. We're not talking about a Jeff Foxworthy punchline here  — these are all items now on display at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

The Perilous Texas Adventures of Mark Dion, which runs through May 17, offers a hoard of collected artifacts discovered by Dion as the contemporary artist retraced the steps of several past adventurers, including watercolorist Sarah Hardinge, botanist Charles Wright, writer Frederick Olmsted and naturalist John James Audubon.

Dion trailed across the highways and byways of the Lone Star State for two years gathering up the interesting mix of gallery-worthy objects, some of which are documented and displayed in cabinets and glass vials. Botany specimens from places like Galveston, San Antonio and Marfa are finely cataloged, while other items — looking as if they might have narrowly missed a scheduled curbside pickup service — are merely piled into cardboard boxes and plastic pails.

“Dion is part explorer and part historian, part naturalist and part collector of curiosities,” says the museum. “His large-scale installations evoke the past in their materials and ethos, but they address today’s culture head-on with intellect and humor.”

“Dion is part explorer and part historian, part naturalist and part collector of curiosities.” — The Amon Carter Museum

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During his expeditions, Dion scoured distinct Texas locales like the Gulf Coast region, West Texas, King Ranch, Austin and San Antonio. The result is a massive and immersive collection that coexists with works on paper and paintings, as well as archived material from the museum’s own collection.

Among the items amassed from Dion’s journeys are a black widow spider and a sign that reads “watch out for snakes,” which he labels a warning for Yankee tourists.

“The drawers, they open,” says a museum employee regarding an impressive cabinet with drawers lined with everything from bent-up bottle caps to meticulous rows of tiny cowboy hats and toy sharpshooters.

Visitors can also take a look at various Texas maps from the 1800s (which Dion used during the creation of the exhibition) or gaze at transparent and opaque watercolors over graphite on paper. Among others, there’s one of a Guadalupe retreat as well as an 1853 work of art titled “View on the Guadalupe, Sequin, Texas.” The watercolors were created by Hardinge, a New Englander turned Texan pioneer.

Dion, who was born in Massachusetts and lives in New York, “experiences Texas today discovering relics of the past through the art, ephemera, fauna, flora and refuse he gathers,” according to a wall placard inside the exhibition.

An inviting array of postcards created and mailed in by others detailing their own adventures also adorns one wall. The delightful, yet haunting display encourages museum goers to “Check out our mail," which fits snugly among Dion’s trove of odd relics hinging on the past.

In a video promoting the exhibition, Amon Carter Museum curator Margaret Adler describes Dion as an artist who’s “really engaged in the process of collecting, of obsessive collecting in a way that creates a sense of wonder when you walk into his exhibition.”

Visitors can delve deeper into the exhibit’s creation from idea to installation through a documentary film, The Perilous Texas Adventures of Mark Dion, by Erik Clapp, which debuts on March 7 at the museum.
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The Texas roads are full of wonders for artist Mark Dion.
courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art
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