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Mark Dion: A Library for the Birds
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Artist, environmentalist, and obsessive organizer-of-everything, Mark Dion has constructed a “Library for the Birds of New York” at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery… and the birds themselves couldn’t care less.

The Library for the Birds of New York, 2016

The Library for the Birds of New York, 2016

A single white oak tree acts as a bookshelf and temporary habitat for 2 species of birds: Canaries, and Zebra Finches (the brown ones are male, the white ones are female).

The Library for the Birds of New York (detail) 2016

The Library for the Birds of New York (detail) 2016

The Library for the Birds of New York (detail) 2016

The Library for the Birds of New York (detail) 2016

The 22 birds nest, perch, and poop on hundreds of books ranging in topics from bird identification, navigation, and predators. They do not however, read any of them. And I think that’s the point. There is a human need to investigate, categorize, transcribe, and too often kill/capture nature, that all seems uninteresting, if not completely pointless, to the “nature” itself.

The Library for the Birds of New York (detail) 2016

The Library for the Birds of New York (detail) 2016

Having only seen pigeons in my last 11 years living here, I wondered IF these birds were “real” New Yorkers (very “New Yorker” of me).  It turns out that both species are transplants from somewhere else, and yet these particular birds are current residents – on loan, and carefully monitored/nurtured by bird handlers daily. In that choice, there seems to be a clear commentary on captivity and domestication but perhaps also a nod to New Yorkers themselves, where like most residents, Dion wasn’t born but currently calls home.  It doesn’t hurt that they both make beautiful music, adding to the pleasure of sharing the space with them.

The Library for the Birds of New York (detail) 2016

The Library for the Birds of New York (detail) 2016

Upstairs there are 5 additional bird-free sculptures that give deeper insight into Dion’s environmental concerns and apparent addiction to picking up and organizing just about EVERYTHING.

An Archaeology of Disorder, 2016

An Archaeology of Disorder, 2016

The eclectic and bizarre display case, “An Archaeology of Disorder” (above), displays objects of “psychiatric affliction”. The effect is doubled by Mark’s own seemingly obsessive behavior in assembling it.

Brontosaurus, 2016

Brontosaurus, 2016

For “Brontosaurus”, Dion has sculpted his childhood understanding (aka: cartoonishly incorrect) of a dinosaur while revealing cleaning supplies in its base. Though humorous in its blunt fakery (particularly if this is ever installed in an actual museum), it also darkly hints at the plastics and chemicals that may contribute to our own extinction.

Cabinet of Marine Debris, 2014

Cabinet of Marine Debris, 2014

“Cabinet of Marine Debris” is exactly that. Garbage collected off the Alaskan coastline is ordered with such perfection and harmony that it reaches a discomforting balance between beauty and tragedy.

Installation view, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, 2016

Installation view, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, 2016

My favorite by far however is “Memory Box”, a shed packed with hundreds of small boxes, containers, and tins – each filled with old trinkets, toys, debris, or dried plants. Few visitors know that you can enter and open any box (do it!).

Memory Box (detail), 2016

Memory Box (detail), 2016

The act of pulling a box and prying it open feels like art rule-breaking and personal trespassing, while every unboxing feels like it’s your birthday. It’s sneaky, and surprising, and purely magical – a lot to say for some dried leaves and rusted keys.

Memory Box (detail), 2016

Memory Box (detail), 2016

The Phantom Museum (Wonder Workshop), 2015

The Phantom Museum (Wonder Workshop), 2015

Finally, in a dark side room, “The Phantom Museum (Wonder Workshop)” holds objects sculpted by Dion, all painted glow-in-the-dark. Like everything else in this exhibition, its wonder needs no explanation.

What: Mark Dion: The Library for the Birds of New York and other Marvels
Where: Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, 521 W 21st St, New York, NY
When: February 25 – April 16, 2016

All images courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York. Photographed by Genevieve Hanson.

David Behringer visits over 200 galleries every month to uncover and share the most exciting contemporary art in New York today. Subscribe to his exclusive weekly newsletter at www.thetwopercent.com and learn about his private gallery tours. And be sure to check out his YouTube.