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Why is this cabinet full of stuff and what does it have to do with Texas?

Oct 26, 2022


Maggie Adler, Curator of Paintings, Sculpture, and Works on Paper

Part of  these categories:: Collection

Quite a few years ago, I began to have conversations with explorer-artist Mark Dion (b. 1961) about a special exhibition project at the Carter. The idea would be for Dion to follow in the footsteps of 19th-century artists, scientists, and writers who explored Texas to make watercolors or collect botanical samples.

Dion is a contemporary sculptor and installation artist whose materials, the equivalent of wood and chisel or paint and palette, if you will, are the objects he collects. He means to celebrate collecting and scientific inquiry and what ends up in museum collections; at the same time, he pokes a bit of fun at the seemingly random things that make the cut.

How does a sculptor make a work that functions as a representation of a place? Dion’s solution is a giant cabinet of curiosities that was created for The Perilous Texas Adventures of Mark Dion (2020) and recently entered the Carter’s collection. The Texas Cabinet is his representation of Texas as a place. Yours might look completely different based on what you picked up along the way.

A wood cabinet with numbers overlayed on the photo indicating placement of items.

Use this key to see where the objects listed are located in The Texas Cabinet.

So, what might you not immediately notice in the cabinet that’s pretty cool? Here are my top 10 curious inclusions:

10. A vial of chewed up gum. I haven’t asked him if it’s gum he chewed or gum he “harvested.”

9. Dirt samples. All of Dion’s dirt samples are labeled with numbers as though they were scientific specimens. A scientist would include coordinates, weather, and collection methods so that some kind of hypotheses could emerge. Dion’s numbers suggest that a notebook exists. It doesn’t. I can also tell you that there’s little scientific value here because some of it comes from a Marriott ashtray, another was scooped up from my backyard, and one comes from the sand at a local playground.

8. Girl Scout patches—will we understand the secret code of merit badges 100 years from now? Is that one for doll making?

A collage of three images showing (left) a glass vial of chewed gum, (top right) a row of numbered glass vials containing dirt in various shades and textures, and (bottom right) a selection of Girl Scout merit badges.

7. What’s that jar of gray fuzz? The results of a Galveston haircut.

6. Fruit Loops.

5. The pits of avocado toast the artist made for himself.

4. Shrimp not from the sea, but from a grocery store.

A collage of four images showing (left-right) a glass jar containing a clump of gray hair, a glass vial containing Fruit Loops, a glass jar containing three avocado pits in gold liquid, a glass gar containing shrimp in clear liquid.

3. Tons of matchbooks. What will we think about matches when nobody smokes any more?

2. Those cigar boxes are full of corks from the wine consumed during his “perilous adventures.”

1. Finally, there’s a vial of toenail clippings somewhere in there.

A collage of three images showing (top left) a pile of matchbooks, (bottom left) a pile of corks from wine bottles, and (right) a glass vial containing toenail clippings.

All images: Mark Dion (b. 1961), The Texas Cabinet (details), 2020, wooden cabinet with found objects, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Purchase with grant funds from the H.L. Brown, Jr. Family Foundation, 2022.21, © Mark Dion Studio