Grotto of the Sleeping Bear (Münster)
Taxidermic specimen, stones, tree trunks, various objects
Northern section of the parkland near Kreuzschanze, temporary installation for the duration of the exhibition Skulptur. Projekte in Münster 1997
* 1961 in New Bedford, Massachusetts, USA
lives and works in New York, USA
In 1997 Mark Dion constructed a shelter for a brown bear near the Promenade at Kreuzschanze. Built from tree trunks and stones, the artificial den barely stood out against the surrounding park. Inside the cave were a stuffed animal and various objects, among them bones, the tips of spears and lances, glass shards, spent shell cases and an old hat. The installation was a conflation of Dion’s impressions gathered at the Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte (Westphalia museum for art and cultural history), the Westfälisches Museum für Naturkunde (Natural history museum) and the Allwetterzoo Münster (All-weather zoo). In both the zoo and the natural history museum where animals are displayed – alive in enclosures or dead inside glass cabinets – the artist encountered brown bears. He as well decided to present a stuffed brown bear as an exhibition object. He was additionally inspired by a painting of the penitent Mary Magdalene in a rock cave.1
Only the objects scattered on the ground indicated that this bear would have been a wild animal, hunted by people for centuries. Based on facts, books and myths of natural history, Dion vividly illustrated the changing perceptions of the animal from a dreaded beast of prey to a cute cuddly toy and consumer product. Manifested in his “site-sensitive”2 installation were the various influences of popular cultural fiction, the results of scientific research and various forms of museum presentation, as well as mankind’s relationship to nature.
Sarah Kristin Happersberger
1 The various sources of inspiration are shown in the series of images accompanying Mark Dion’s contribution to the catalogue. Cf. Mark Dion, “Anmerkungen zu Grotto of the Sleeping Bear”, in: Klaus Bußmann, Kasper König and Florian Matzner (eds.), Skulptur. Projekte in Münster 1997, exhib. cat. Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Münster, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1997, p. 119–124.
2 According to Roland Nachtigäller, Dion does not characterise his works as “site-specific” but as “site-sensitive” or “site-oriented”. He points out that Dion’s installations relate equally to places and their underlying conditions as they do to his own artistic interests and issues. Cf. Roland Nachtigäller, “Zwischen Bühnenraum und Labor – Mark Dions ‘Field Stations’ im öffentlichen Raum”, in: Andreas Baur (ed.), Mark Dion – Encyclomania, exhib. cat. Villa Merkel, Galerien der Stadt Esslingen et al., Nuremberg, 2003, p. 50.
- Still existing