Exploratory Works: Drawings from the Department of Tropical Research Field Expeditions

This exhibition brings to light for the first time an archive of images that illustrate the formation of our modern definition of nature. William Beebe (1877–1962) was one of America's greatest popularizers of ecological thinking and biological science. Beebe literally took the lab into the jungle, rather than the jungle to the lab. The Department of Tropical Research was pioneering in that, under Beebe’s direction, women were hired as lead scientists and field artists. Artist Isabel Cooper, joining in 1919, publicly relished her opportunity to travel through the jungles of Guyana juggling a “vivid serpent or tapestried lizard in one hand, and the best grade of Japanese paintbrush in the other.” The structure of The Drawing Center’s exhibition mirrors the two salient stages of the Department of Tropical Research's investigations: jungle field station work and floating laboratories for marine biology —revealing that artists and scientists worked closely and productively in the near past and that scientists once understood art as a valuable tool for promoting ecological thinking to a broad public. For the exhibition at The Drawing Center, Mark Dion constructs two installations which take as their inspiration images of the interiors of the DTR field stations. While one of the installations develops the space of the jungle laboratories, the other looks to the oceanographic workshops. Numerous images in the WCS archive depict the work situations and interior conditions in both the tropical forest field stations and the floating labs of the research vessels.

Curated by Mark Dion, Katherine McLeod, and Madeleine Thompson.

Exhibition Materials


Exploratory Works: Drawings from the Department of Tropical Research Field Expeditions

Past Programs