Sunday, April 11, 2010

Congress for Curious People: Lectures Begin Tomorrow Night at the Coney Island Museum!

Click on image or here to download full-sized broadside as seen above. Prints up to 11 X 17.

The "Congress for Curious People"--as detailed in this recent post--will launch tomorrow with Evan Michelson's illustrated meditation on "The Saddest Object in the World" and continue through the week with nightly lectures on topics ranging from taxidermy to automata to the first American museum. On the following Saturday and Sunday, we will be hosting an epic 2-day symposium examining the collecting of curiosities, the history of ethnographic display and the interface of spectacle and education in 19th and 2oth Century amusements, and the politics of bodily display in the amusement parks, museums, and fairs of the Western world. Full details for all events follow.

Important Note: All events will be co-presented by Observatory and Morbid Anatomy but will take place at The Coney Island Museum rather than Observatory. Half-price drinks till 7 will help make it worth-your-while for a little extra commute, as will the amazing lectures and symposium, not to mention the ambiance of the museum as lecture space. I will be in attendance at every lecture; very much hope to see you there!

The Saddest Object in the World
An Illustrated Meditation by Evan Michelson,
Obscura Antiques and Oddities and Morbid Anatomy Library scholar in residence
Date: Monday, April 12th
Time: 7:00 PM
The Coney Island Museum
“The Saddest Object in the World” is a meditation on one particular artifact; an exercise in Proustian involuntary memory, aesthetic critique, and philosophical bargaining.

Sometimes objects have consequences.

Evan Michelson is an antiques dealer, lecturer, accumulator and aesthete; she tirelessly indulges a lifelong pursuit of all things obscure and melancholy. She currently lives in another place and time.

A Rogue's Approach to Stuffing It: Taxidermy in Contemporary Pop, Art and Sub-Cultures
Robert Marbury of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists
Date: Tuesday, April 13th
Time: 7:00 PM
The Coney Island Museum
ave you seen a rise in taxidermy in the world around you? What could be causing this resurgence? A Rogue’s Approach to Taxidermy will identify prominent practitioners of natural history art; discuss popular trends in preservation, presentation and representation; and delve into the sub-culture of artistic taxidermy. Robert will also discuss the highs and lows of running a taxidermy art group, and offer suggestions on which emails to return and who to not let into your house.

Robert Marbury received his BA in Anthropology from Connecticut College and a post-Bac from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He is the co-founder of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists. Robert is currently curating a Rogue Taxidermy show which will run from May 7th to May 30th at La Luz de Jesus in Los Angeles. He lives and works in Brooklyn.

A Brief History of Automata
An Illustrated Lecture and Demonstration by Mike Zohn,
Obscura Antiques and Oddities
Date: Wednesday, April 14th
Time: 7:00 PM
The Coney Island Museum
In this illustrated lecture, Obscura Antique and Oddities‘ Mike Zohn will demonstrate his 19th Century taxidermy automata, as featured in last year’s Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest. He will explain its curious mechanisms, and, in an illustrated lecture, will introduce us to the history of these fascinating uncanny machines, tracing their trajectory from tools of religious coercion to prince’s plaything to Disney’s imagineering experiments.
Mike Zohn is co-proprietor of Obscura Antique and Oddities. He fixes automata in his spare time.

A History of Taxidermy: Art, Science and Bad Taste
An Illustrated Presentation By Dr. Pat Morris, Royal Holloway, University of London
Date: Thursday, April 15th
Time: 7:00 PM
The Coney Island Museum
Should taxidermy be viewed as art, science, or bad taste? And why is it so interesting? Dr. Pat Morris’ illustrated lecture “A History of Taxidermy: Art, Science and Bad Taste” will explore these topics and more. His talk will range over the history of stuffed animals, considering how a small-time taxidermist business operated in the 19th century and exploring the many diverse and amusing uses of taxidermy and the taxidermist’s products ranging from major museum exhibits to stuffed pets, hunting trophies, animal furniture, kitten weddings (see above, Walter Potter, circa 1890s), frogs eating spaghetti and squirrels playing cards. He will discuss in detail the work of anthropomorphic taxidermist Walter Potter and his eponymous “Museum of Curiosities,” as detailed in his own lavishly illustrated book on that topic, which will be available for sale at the lecture.

Dr. Pat Morris is a retired staff member of Royal Holloway College (University of London), where he taught biology undergraduates and supervised research on mammal ecology. In that capacity he has published many books and scientific papers and featured regularly in radio and TV broadcasts. The history of taxidermy has been a lifelong hobby interest and he has published academic papers and several books on the subject. With his wife Mary he has travelled widely, including most of Europe and the USA, seeking interesting taxidermy specimens and stories. They live in England where their house is home to the largest collection and archive of historical taxidermy in Britain.

Charles Wilson Peale and the Birth of the American Museum
An Illustrated Presentation by Samuel Strong Dunlap, PhD, Descendant of Charles Wilson Peale
Date: Friday, April 16th
Time: 7:00 PM
The Coney Island Museum
Long time historian and editor of the Peale Family Papers Dr. Lillian B. Miller (now deceased) described Charles Willson Peale as a true renaissance man. Peale is perhaps best remembered today as the founder of America’s first cabinet-of-curiosity like museum–the Philadelphia Museum (later the Peale Museum)–which housed a diverse collection of botanical, biological, and archaeological specimens and can be viewed in the image above. Famously, Peale’s museum also pioneered the habitat group–or natural history diorama–an art form memorably perfected by such museums as the American Museum of Natural History and Chicago’s Field Museum in the early 20th Century.

In this illustrated lecture, we will learn about Peale the museologist, and examine how his museological work continuously overlap with his inventive, artistic, scientific, literary and exploratory interests. Peale was a friend or acquaintance with most of the military, scientific, diplomatic and foreign individuals who played significant roles in our revolutionary war and the early growth of our democracy.


Date: Saturday April 17th and Sunday April 18th
Location: Coney Island Museum, 1208 Surf Ave. Brooklyn ADMISSION: $25 for full weekend admission
Presented by Morbid Anatomy and Observatory with Coney Island USA
The Congress for Curious People is a 2-day symposium exploring education and spectacle, collectors of curiosities, historical fairground displays and more, in conjunction with The Coney Island Museum. The symposium will feature panels of humanities scholars discussing with the audience the intricacies of collecting, the history of ethnographic display, the interface of spectacle and education, and the politics of bodily display in the amusement parks, museums, and fairs of the Western world. Also on view in the museum will be "The Collector's Cabinet," an installation of astounding artifacts held in private collections. In conjunction with the events at the Coney Island Museum, Observatory's Gallery space will host "The Secret Museum," an exhibition exploring the poetics of hidden, untouched and curious collections from around the world.

The Congress for Curious People will serve as an academic counterpoint to Coney Island's Congress of Curious Peoples, which Coney Island USA has convened since 2007 at Sideshows by the Seashore. In the past, the Congress has included performances by artists like Joe Coleman and Harley Newman, feats of strength, and world-record breaking attempts, among others. You can find out more about the Congress of Curious Peoples at

Saturday, April 17th 11 AM-12:30 PM – Education and Spectacle in 19th and 20th Century Amusements, Lectures and Panel Discussion
Eva Åhrén, author of Death, Modernity, and the Body : Sweden 1870-1940
Andrea Stulman Dennett, author of Weird and Wonderful: The Dime Museum in America
Amy Herzog, author of Dreams of Difference, Songs of the Same: The Musical Moment in Film
Kathy Maher, Executive Director of the Barnum Museum
Moderated by Betsy Bradley, New York Public Library

LUNCH 2-3:30 PM– Cabinets of Curiosity: Collecting Curiosities in the 21st Century, Lectures and Panel Discussion
Joe Coleman, collector and artistLink
Johnny Fox, collector, performer, founder of The Freakatorium
Evan Michelson, Antique and Oddity Dealer, Obscura Antiques and Oddities and Morbid Anatomy Library scholar in residence
Melissa Milgrom, author of Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy
Mike Zohn, Antique and Oddity Dealer, Obscura Antiques and Oddities
Moderated by Aaron Beebe, Director of the Coney Island Museum

4-5:30 PM – Freaks and Monsters: The Politics of Bodily Display, Lectures and Panel Discussion
Mike Chemers, author of Staging Stigma: A Critical History of the American Freak Show
Nadja Durbach, author of Spectacle of Deformity: Freak Shows and Modern British Culture
Michael Sappol, Historian of the National Library of Medicine and author of A Traffic of Dead Bodies: Anatomy and Embodied Social Identity in Nineteenth-Century America
Moderated by Jennifer Miller, Bearded Lady and founder of Circus Amok

6-8 PM Drinks and light fare

Sunday, April 18th 12-2 PM – A History of Cultural Display in World’s Fairs and Sideshows, Lectures and Panel Discussion
Lucian Gomoll, University of California at Santa Cruz
Alison Griffiths, author of Wondrous Difference: Cinema, Anthropology, and Turn of the Century Visual Culture
Barbara Mathé, Archivist, American Museum of Natural History
Moderated by Aaron Glass, author of The Totem Pole: An Intercultural Biography and In Search of the Hamat’sa: A Tale of Headhunting

2 PM – Closing remarks


The Secret Museum
An exhibition exploring the poetics of hidden, untouched and curious collections from around the world in photographs and artifacts, by Joanna Ebenstein, co-founder of Observatory and creator of Morbid Anatomy.
Location: Observatory
Opening Party: Saturday, April 10, 7-10; on view On view from April 10th-May 16th, 3-6 Thursday and Friday, 12-6 Saturday and Sunday
Admission: Free

The Collectors Cabinet
An exhibition which will showcase astounding objects held in private collections, including artifacts featured in Joanna Ebenstein's Private Cabinet photo series of 2009. Featured cabinetists include Curious Expeditions and Observatory's Michelle Enemark and Dylan Thuras, Obscura Antiques and Oddities, and Morbid Anatomy and Observatory's Joanna Ebenstein.
LOCATION: * Coney Island Museum, Brooklyn

Image: "Femme à Barbe, Musée Orfila.Courtesy of Paris Descartes University.

To find out more about this event and the larger Congress of Curious Peoples--including nightly performances and the epic opening night party--click here. For more about the Congress for Curious People, click here. Click on image or click here to download a hi-res copy of the above broadside. For information about the Coney Island Museum--including address and directions--click here.

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