One of us, one of us, we accept her, one of us, gooble gobble, one of us.” If you, too, are one of us – that is, a slightly embarrassed devotee of all things creepy and surreal – you might recognise that chant. It comes from Tod Browning’s 1932 horror film Freaks, as a troupe of circus sideshow performers welcomes a horrified new member.
A similar fearful camaraderie unites those who make their way to the Morbid Anatomy Museum, a new and resplendent temple of weirdness in New York. With its collection of oddities – a wax model of a man disfigured by syphilis, a mummified rodent, and so on – the museum speaks to a cluster of fascinations that has only tangentially to do with death.
Rather, its aficionados – and I speak from the heart, here – are attuned to the slightly bizarre aspects of ordinary existence. We respond to the nostalgic frisson emanating from surrealist photographs, 17th-century cabinets of curiosity, graphic histories of hysteria, faked photos of seances, studies of conjoined twins, and Coney Island in its tawdry heyday. We claim a distinguished roster of elders: Edgar Allan Poe, Edward Gorey, Georges Bataille, WG Sebald and Susan Sontag. I imagine this conclave of eccentrics gathered around a Ouija board, with Freud acting as master of ceremonies. His concept of the uncanny – what he called a “ghastly harbinger of death” – hovers invisibly throughout the museum.
This indispensable new institution was founded and funded by a cadre of likeminded obsessives, led by creative director Joanna Ebenstein.... offers classes in areas where art and morbidity overlap: how to articulate a snake skeleton; how to stuff, mount and costume rabbits in anthropomorphic poses; how to draw a human skull. Almost nightly lectures merge the outlandish with the scholarly. “Lizard Mummies and Giant Squid Tentacles” gets behind the scenes at the American Museum of Natural History, and “Industrial Ladies” examines early 19th-century department store wax mannequins. All this erudition supports the museum’s overarching point: that a concern with the once-alive and the eerily lifelike has long suffused modern culture.The Morbid Anatomy Museum has been very lucky to have received quite a bit of press attention since opening our doors almost two months ago, but none has so aptly and elegantly summed up the larger Morbid Anatomy ethos, aesthetic and community as Ariella Budick's wonderfully insightful piece in last weekend's Financial Times.
--"Brooklyn’s Morbid Anatomy Museum: A new and resplendent temple of weirdness has opened in New York," Ariella Budick, Financial Times, August 2014
I have quoted the piece at length above; you can read it in its entirety by clicking here (note: you must sign up to read it, but its free and worth it!)
The photographs above are all courtesy of Stanley B Burns and the very excellent Burns Archive, one of the main loaners to our Art of Mourning exhibition, on view through December 4th.
If you would like to support The Morbid Anatomy Museum--wonderfully described in the article as an "indispensable new institution" (!)--please consider becoming a member (with all the benefits that entails!) here, or making a donation by clicking here.