Christmas Eve, 1933
Artist Mark Dion interrogates the form, function and politics of museum display and exhibition. The institutional convention of the period room, those meticulous reconstructions of interiors frozen in time, have been a focus of Dion’s work for some time and he has produced period room installations for a number of museums. Christmas Eve, 1933, is a carefully refurbished room within the rectory of the parish church of St. Joseph the Worker on Rumsey Street. The scene recreates the cluttered parlor of a parish priest about to return home after the last service of the evening. The building’s interiors, otherwise unoccupied and deteriorating, stands in stark contrast to the melancholic domestic scene of Christmas Eve, 1933. This installation and period rooms in general takes their queues from several existing genres. The diorama format resembles a stage set without an actor. It is also reminiscent of Dutch still life paintings depicting a partially finished meal. In those forms, the presence of a person is suggested by their absence, the implication being that the individual has temporarily left the setting, and will return at any moment. This can elicit in viewers an uncomfortable sense of being an uninvited voyeur. Mark Dion has created large-scale installations that recontextualize museum collections, creating new narratives that challenge our ideas about institutional and personal systems of ordering and classification. Sometimes ideas that underpin our beliefs and actions exist without being noticed, and even a small disruption of expectations can open our minds to new possibilities. The work for ArtPrize was keenly influenced by the history of the rectory building and its future demolition. Assembled from dozens of private, commercial, and institutional collections, Christmas Eve, 1933, inspires visitors to make connections and construct the history of the individual who inhabited this place.