From November 30, 2013 to February 22, 2014, the Pignatelli Museum will be hosting The Pursuit of Sir William Hamilton, the first solo exhibition in a Neapolitan institution by the American artist Mark Dion.
The exhibition, organized by the Fondazione Donnaregina per le arti contemporanee in collaboration with the Fondazione Morra Greco, is part of the Progetto XXI exhibition project. Organized as a cycle of thirteen events, the project seeks to explore the most recent artistic output, still debated and not wholly affirmed, through which it intends to contribute to researching, sustaining and displaying the most advanced experimental art, new ideas, themes and contemporary trends. The exhibition was proted in collaboration with the Soprintendenza speciale per il Patrimonio storico, artistico ed etnoantropologico e per il Polo museale della città di Napoli.
Dion’s work examines the ways in which dominant ideologies and public institutions shape our understanding of history, knowledge, and the natural world. Appropriating archaeological and other scientific methods of collecting, ordering, and exhibiting objects, Dion creates works that question the distinctions between “objective” (“rational”) scientific methods and “subjective” (“irrational”) influences. The artist’s spectacular and often fantastical curiosity cabinets, modeled on Wunderkabinetts of the sixteenth century, exalt atypical orderings of objects and specimens. By locating the roots of environmental politics and public policy in the construction of knowledge about nature, Mark Dion questions the authoritative role of the scientific voice in contemporary society.
Dion’s exhibition project focuses on the figure of the English diplomat Sir William Hamilton, ambassador between 1764 and 1800 to the court of Naples during the reign of the bourbon ruler Ferdinand IV, king of Naples. An eminent scholar, Hamilton gathered around him many of the cultivated members of the foreign and local community in the period, contributing to enrich the cosmopolitan character of a city already culturally advanced and a favored destination on the grand tour.
With The pursuit of Sir William Hamilton, Dion seeks to present an accurate picture of the interests and passions of the English ambassador by highlighting the close ties existing between his studies, the city of Naples and the surrounding area, with particular reference to his inclination in studying the phenomena of earthquakes and eruptions of Vesuvius, his propensity for collecting Greek and Roman antiquities, and his predilection for hunting, shared with Ferdinand IV, king of Naples.
The exhibition space on the first floor of the museum is thus characterized by representation of each of Hamilton’s fields of interest through the theming of each of the rooms, devoted to the following topics: collecting, natural sciences, volcanology, hunting, the HMS Colossus, Emma Hamilton.
The exhibition is organized through the display of about 70 works, as the reproduction of a series of objects belonging to the diplomat, numerous drawings and collages, statues representing famous people.
In addition to cabinets filled with reproductions of memorabilia, the display includes a series of original works dating back to the last decades of the 1700s through a series of loans from major museums in Naples. Gouaches, paintings, vases made in the Hamiltonian period or discovered during it occupy the exhibition space and enrich the display devoted to one of the most eminent foreign scholars resident in Naples at the height of the city’s splendor.
Through his writings Hamilton was able to influence the perception of the territory, history and local beauties by international artists and amateurs who were his contemporaries. Mark Dion, likewise, succeeds in traversing the time boundary in the faithful transmission of the spirit of the period and involves viewers today into the assimilation of an exhibition nurtured by the conceptual ideas and techniques of contemporary art yet takes its standpoint out of time.
Mark Dion was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1961. In 1986 he graduated from the university of Hartford, Connecticut, and received an honorary doctorate from the same university in 2003. Between 1984 and 1985 he was selected for the study program at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. He is currently Mentor at the School of art of Columbia University in Manhattan, New York, where he lives and works. His artworks have been exhibited in major museums around the world, some examples: Miami Art Museum, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Tate Gallery, London, Natural History Museum, London; Bildenden Akademie der Kunst, Vienna, University of Tokyo Museum, Tokyo, Kunstverein, Hamburg, Contemporary Art Center, Madrid, Gemeente Museum, The Hague, Seattle Art Museum, The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin.
(Text by Anna Cuomo)