Mark Sloan was born in Durham, NC and grew up in Chapel Hill, NC. Sloan holds a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Richmond (1980) and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Virginia Commonwealth University (1984).
As an artist, Sloan's work has been exhibited at the Grand Palais in Paris; the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University; Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, NC; the Harvard Museum of Natural History; the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia; the High Museum in Atlanta; and the United States National Academy of Sciences.
Sloan has been an arts administrator since the mid-1980s, directing two national, non-profit artists' organizations and two university art galleries. Sloan was Executive Director of The Light Factory in Charlotte, NC (1985–86); and Associate Director of San Francisco Camerawork in California (1986–89). Sloan was Director of the Roland Gibson Gallery at the State University of New York at Potsdam from 1992 until 1994. Since 1994 Sloan has been the Director and Chief Curator of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston School of the Arts in Charleston, South Carolina. The Halsey Institute was named for local abstract artist William Melton Halsey upon his retirement from teaching at the College of Charleston. Mark Sloan was Consulting Curator for the art collection at the Medical University of South Carolina from 2005 until 2013. In 2012 the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, with special recognition to Mark Sloan, received the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts, the highest award given in the state of South Carolina for the arts.
As a curator, Sloan has produced several hundred exhibitions of contemporary art in his career, most of which highlight the work of under-known artists. Many of these exhibitions have traveled nationally and several internationally. These exhibitions, with their attendant publications, videos, and other documentation have increased the visibility of emerging and mid-career artists, many of whom have gone on to become contemporary art mainstays.
An active grant-writer who secures funding from major foundations, government agencies, and private donors, Sloan's efforts bring international artists to the United States for residencies and exhibitions. Sloan's curatorial efforts extend beyond the boundaries of his institutional affiliation. Sloan has curated international exhibits that collaboratively engage Clemson University's architecture students. Traveling exhibitions have appeared at the High Museum in Atlanta, GA.; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, CA; Presentation House Gallery, in Vancouver, British Columbia; the Musee Art Brut, Lausanne, Switzerland; Kyoto University of Art and Design; and the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, MD. In 2009, Sloan curated the "largest collection of original, contemporary South Carolina art on permanent display" at Ashley River Tower, a state-of-the-art hospital at the Medical University of South Carolina. The hospital's permanent installation features 873 original works by 54 contemporary South Carolina artists; funding for the project came from private donations.
Sloan has authored or co-authored fourteen books on subjects as various as Russian conceptual art, early 20th Century circus life, and the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Several of Sloan's books document circus and sideshow history through photography and anecdote. Tome-length book titles reflect the hyperbole of the circus: Hoaxes, Humbugs, and Spectacles: Astonishing Photographs of Smelt Wrestlers, Human Projectiles, Giant Hailstones, Contortionists, Elephant Impersonators, and Much, Much, More!; Dear Mr. Ripley: A Compendium of Curioddities from the Believe It or Not Archives; and Wild, Weird, and Wonderful: The American Circus 1901–1927, as Seen by F.W. Glasier, Photographer are illustrative examples. With Dear Mr. Ripley, Sloan and his co-authors Roger Manley and Michelle Van Parys were given "privileged access" to all of the correspondence sent to Robert Ripley during his worklife (1918–1948). This book appeared in US, UK, and Japanese editions.
Sloan and frequent collaborator Roger Manley have produced a number of exhibitions and book projects, including Self-Made Worlds: Visionary Folk Art Environments in 1997. The resulting book and traveling exhibition were produced by Aperture.
Sloan's photographs and books have inspired artists in other media. Author Sara Gruen credits Sloan's book Wild, Weird, and Wonderful as inspiration for her New York Times bestselling novel Water for Elephants. Costumes and backgrounds for the 2010 film of the same name emanated from the book as well. Choreographer Twyla Tharp used Wild, Weird, and Wonderful as inspiration for the sets and costumes of her Broadway production “The Times They Are A-Changin'”, a musical featuring the music of Bob Dylan.
Sloan's assemblage photographs illustrate the Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, with writer Nancy Pick and a forward by E.O. Wilson. "Rarest" was reviewed by NPR and selected as one of the top science books of 2004 by Discover magazine. Wired (magazine) featured Sloan's work in conjunction with an exhibit at National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. Sloan has written for DoubleTake magazine, Mexico’s Luna Cornea, and has been a regional field editor for the College Art Association. He has written numerous catalog essays on contemporary art.
Sloan taught at State University of New York at Potsdam, and is currently an Associate Professor at the College of Charleston where he offers courses in Museum Studies and special topics courses in the Honors College.
Mark Sloan lives with his wife, Michelle Van Parys, in Charleston, SC.(2014) Ruth Marten - The Unvarnished Truth: works 2007 - 2013, Essays by Franz and Nadia van der Grinten, Rachel Guthrie, John Marchant, and Mark Sloan. Co-published by Charleston: Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and Cologne: Van der Grinten Gallery. Distributed by the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, ISBN 9783981534887.
(2013) Renee Stout: Tales of the Conjure Woman, essays by Mark Sloan, Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, and Kevin Young. Artist interview by Ade Offunyin. Charleston: Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. Distributed by University of South Carolina Press, ISBN 9781467586788.
(2012) The Pulse Dome Project: Art & Design by Don ZanFagna, essay by Mark Sloan. Charleston: Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. Distributed by the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, ISBN 9781467550161.
(2012) The Paternal Suit: Heirlooms from the F. Scott Hess Family Foundation, edited by Mark Sloan, with an essay by Bella Menteur. Text by F. Scott Hess. Charleston: Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, Distributed by D.A.P., ISBN 9781467538138.
(2012) Return to the Sea: Saltworks of Yamamoto Motoi, Charleston: Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, ISBN 9781467521277.
(2012) Aggie Zed: Keeper’s Keep, Charleston: Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, ISBN 9781467507905.
(2009) Aldwyth: Work v. / Work n. —Collage and Assemblage 1991-2009, Charleston: Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, ISBN 9780615268859.
(2007) Force of Nature: Site Installations by Ten Japanese Artists, with Brad Thomas. Charleston, S.C. : Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art ; Davidson, N.C. : Van Every/Smith Galleries. ISBN 9781890573072.
(2004) Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, (photographer) with writer Nancy Pick and a forward by E.O. Wilson. New York : HarperResource. ISBN 0060537183.
(2002) Wild, Weird, and Wonderful: The American Circus 1901-1927 as Seen by F. W. Glasier, Photographer New York : Quantuck Lane ISBN 0971454841.
(1997) Self-Made Worlds: Visionary Folk Art Environments, with Roger Manley. Aperture ISBN 0893817325.
(1993) Dear Mr. Ripley: A Compendium of Curioddities from the Believe It or Not Archives, with Roger Manley and Michelle Van Parys, Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown, & Co. ISBN 0821219685. Also published in United Kingdom and Japan.
(1993) PHOTOGLYPHS: Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin New Orleans Museum of Art ISBN 0894940449.
(1990) Hoaxes, Humbugs, and Spectacles: Astonishing Photographs of Smelt Wrestlers, Human Projectiles, Giant Hailstones, Contortionists, Elephant Impersonators, and Much, Much, More! with Roger Manley and Michelle Van Parys,Villard Books/Random House. ISBN 0394585119.
Lonnie Holley, Alyson Shotz, Jasper Johns, Shepard Fairey, Eames Demetrious, Lesley Dill, Renee Stout, Lonnie Holley, Pat Potter, Jumaadi, Yaakov Israel, Kathleen Robbins, Hung Liu, Juan Logan, Shimon Attie, Tanja Softic, Nick Cave (performance artist), William Wegman (photographer), Edward Burtynsky, Emmet Gowin, Duane Michals, St. EOM (Pasaquan), Georgia Blizzard, Gay Outlaw, Pinky Bass, David Maisel, Leon Golub, David Stern, Susanna Coffey, Garth Evans, Oriane Stender, Mr. Imagination, Regina Frank, E.H. Sorrells Adewale, Quashie, The Art Guys, Jerome Meadows, Kevin Kelley, Volker Seding, Deborah Luster, Motoi Yamamoto, Simon Norfolk, Gideon Bok, Sumakshi Singh, Paola Cabal, Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, Jerry Uelsmann, Maggie Taylor, Evon Streetman, Larry Burrows, Craig Barber, Rikuo Ueda, Richard McMahan, Leslie Wayne, Ruth Marten, Sonya Clark, Loren Schwerd, Louis St. Lewis, Kendall Messick, Tiebena Dagnogo, Phyllis Galembo, Aldwyth, Talia Greene, and Althea Murphy-Price.