Inspired by the Renaissance tradition of the ‘cabinet of curiosities,’ artist-in-residence Mark Dion has created a tiny, fascinating museum right here on Grounds.

You might have noticed a new addition to the University of Virginia’s Arts Grounds.

Situated just off Culbreth Road, near Ruffin Hall, the nondescript exterior of the small wooden cabin belies a treasure trove of art inside, all created or found by Ruffin Distinguished Artist-in-Residence Mark Dion. The installation, called the “Virginia Curiosity Shop,” opened Friday.

Dion, who began his residency in 2016 with classes and an exhibition at UVA’s Ruffin Gallery, is inspired by the Renaissance tradition of the “cabinet of curiosities” displaying artifacts gathered worldwide. Much of his work – which has been exhibited in major galleries around the world – features interactive displays or whole rooms of found and created objects, ready for visitors to peruse.

"Mark’s work is simply extraordinary," said Vice Provost for the Arts Jody Kielbasa. "There is such a sense of wonder and discovery in his work as an artist and his stay at UVA has been such a phenomenal opportunity for students to work with and see Mark’s vision realized."

Dion designed the building’s interior to resemble an office, replete with all sorts of objects and clues hinting at inhabitants’ lives. Visitors can peer in through the windows and glass doorways.

Above, visitors roam the installation during a special tour on Friday. Dion was inspired by the small structures dotting Virginia’s rural landscapes, he said. Along with art professor William Wylie and others, he gathered or made thousands of objects for the installation, often visiting estate sales or thrift stores in search of the perfect piece.

“Mark Dion has been an wonderful artist to work with. He is one of the most important artists working today and to have someone of his stature here working daily with students has been incredible,” Wylie said. “As the 2016 Ruffin Distinguished Artist-in-Residence, he raised the bar on expectations.”

Dion, above, with his work when it opened on Friday. He spent a year working on the project after conceiving the idea during his 2016 residency at UVA. The installation will remain on Grounds for three years, ensuring that future students can learn from Dion’s work – even if they were not here during his residency.

“Having one of his signature works on Grounds for future students and the greater community to interact with will ensure that the spirit of Mark’s residency and generosity will continue to inspire,” Wylie said.

Wylie, above right, speaks with students, faculty and staff after the installation opened, explaining the process that went into creating the building and its contents.

Dion also addressed the crowd, sharing the inspiration behind the work and his hopes for the installation.

Media Contact

Caroline Newman

University News Associate Office of University Communications