Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Beauty's Lot: As I Now Am, So You Shall Be," 1778

Caption reads (to the best of my deciphering, and sic on the spelling throughout):
Beautys Lot
Adorn'd with Tates, I well could Boast, Of Tons and Macaronys Toast;
I once was Fair, Young, Frisky, Gay, Could Please with songs and Dance the Hay
Dear Belle's reflect Ye Morals see, As I now am, so You shall be.
Pub as the act directs Feb. 1, 1778...
From today's Bibliodyssey post about satirical attacks on 18th Century women's hairstyles; click here to see full post. Click on image to see much larger, lovelier version.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wedding at the Anatomical Theatre! Museum Boerhaave, 2009

Bart Grob, curator of modern medicine Museum Boerhaave, just alerted me to a momentous and truly spectacular occasion--the first-ever wedding held in the anatomical theatre of the Museum Boerhaave! I asked Bart to send along some photos (see above) and write up a brief report about the wedding; here is what he had to say:
Happily ever after in Museum Boerhaave

On the 10th of September Vincent Scheerman and Anoeska Wouterse celebrated the most important day of their life. That memorable day the couple got married in the anatomical theatre of Museum Boerhaave. And what better place to choose for celebrating their love for each other then in this unique theatre of life and death.

Vincant and Anoeska had a long standing wish to get married here. The both share a common interest in scientific discoveries and nature. Besides Vincent has a special connection with the anatomical theatre, he’s working in the conservation department for more then 20 years now.

The Museum was honoured to act as a wedding location for the first time in it’s history.

In the evening the wedding guests were treated to a special guest. The Leyden butcher Ed Noseman showed his craftsmanship. He dissected a two years old pig and explained were our meat comes from. It was almost like the old days were back again.

In 1593 the University of Leiden was one of the first to build an anatomy theatre in Europe. It was constructed in a former church, which had fallen to the city of Leiden after the Reformation.

In the winter the professor of anatomy conducted public dissections of corpses. During the summer months there was no teaching and the theatre was turned into a kind of museum containing human and animal skeletons. There were also curiosities such as Egyptian mummies and Roman antiquities. It was a place where visitors could stand in amazement and ponder the transience of life.

In the 19th century the anatomy theatre closed down, leaving no trace. What you see here is an actual-size reconstruction of how it must have looked in about 1610, based on manuscripts and prints. The skeletons are also modern, but a few of the curiosities have survived.
The choice of having holding the wedding in the anatomical theatre also reminds me, in a lovely way, of the antique memento mori-themed wedding portraits one runs across from time to time, such as this one:

"The Judd Marriage Portrait" from 1560, to be found in the book Death in England: An Illustrated History (click here to find out more). All share a concern with the ritual contemplation of mortality meaningfully combined with a celebration of the beginning of a new life; I like this combination very much, and find it quite in keeping with the tone of the Museum Boerhaave anatomical theatre.

Congratulations, Vincent Scheerman and Anoeska Wouterse, on the beginning of your new life together, so beautifully heralded in at the Museum Boerhaave anatomical theatre! Thanks so much, Bart, for this report and the photos. Click on images to see larger versions; well worth it on all counts. You can visit the Museum Boerhaave website by clicking here; you can see photos of the Museum Boerhaave collection, and of its epic skeleton-decorated anatomical theatre, by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The "Anatomical Machines" of the Prince of Sansevero, 1763-64

I just stumbled upon an article about the enigmatic "Anatomical Machines" of the Prince of Sansevero. These artifacts, constructed in 1763-64 by Dr. Giuseppe Salerno of Palermo, still reside in their glass cases in the "Underground Chamber" of the Museo Sansevero, and were quite sensational in their time, when popular imagination held that the Prince--in his ardor for rational, materialist science--had commanded that two of his servants be killed and virtuosically embalmed. His goal in this dark deed? To create a sort of anatomical Adam and Eve, who would--from pedestals on high and forevermore--elegantly and accurately illustrate the skeletal structure, viscera, arterial system, and vein systems of the human form. Though not the most beautiful things in the world (see above) it is said their accuracy is astounding, down to the smallest detail. More, from the webpage of the Sansevero Chapel Museum (Museo Sansevero):
In the Underground Chamber, housed in two glass cases, are the famous Anatomical Machines, i.e. the skeletons of a man and of a woman in upright position, with the artery and vein systems almost perfectly intact. The Machines were made by the doctor Giuseppe Salerno of Palermo, under the direction of Raimondo di Sangro. The discovery of notaries’ deeds and credit notes makes it possible to date these “works” to 1763-64. The two anatomical studies are the most enigmatic objects in the Sansevero Chapel...

These disquieting objects were kept in a room in the palace of the Prince of Sansevero, called “the Apartment of the Phoenix”, as a number of travellers and the Short note attest. This source describes the Machines in detail, from the blood vessels of the head to those of the tongue, and adds that at the feet of the women was placed “the tiny body of a foetus”, alongside which there was even the open placenta, connected to the foetus by umbilical cord. The two anatomical studies were moved to the Chapel, and in this way saved from destruction or loss, long after the death of the Prince. The remains of the foetus were still visible up to a few decades ago, until they were stolen.

The Anatomical Machines have fuelled the so-called “black legend” about the Prince of Sansevero. Also Benedetto Croce recounts that, according to popular belief, Raimondo di Sangro “had two of his servants killed, a man and a women, and had the bodies strangely embalmed so that they showed all the viscera, the arteries and the veins”...
From what I understand, contemporary research suggests that the "black legend" incriminating the Prince of Sansevero in erroneous, that these machines are, in fact, composed of artificial material, save for the skeletons that serve as the base; for more on this research, see the article "The Anatomical Machines of the Prince of Sansevero" which describes an ongoing project conducted by Lucia Dacome (who presented on this topic at a recent conference I attended) and Renata Peters by clicking here. For more about the "Machines," and to read in full the text from which the above excerpt is drawn, click here. All images from the Nautilus Antiques and Oddities Shop write-up of the museum; click here to find out more.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Monsieur Vénus", Rachilde, 1884

In the Vénérande Mansion, in the left wing, whose shutters are always closed, there is a walled chamber.

That room is as blue as a cloudless sky, and on the bed shaped like a shell, an Eros of marble watches over a wax figure covered with transparent rubber. The red hair, the fair eyelashes, the gold hair of the chest are natural; the teeth that are in the mouth, and the nails on the hands and feet, have been torn from a corpse. The enameled eyes have an adorable look.

The walled chamber has a door hidden in the draperies of the dressing room. At night, sometimes a woman dressed in mourning, and sometimes a young man in evening clothes, opens this door.

One or the other kneels at the foot of the bed, and, after contemplating at length the marvelous lines of the wax statue, embraces it, and kisses it on its mouth. A hidden spring, installed at the inside of the hips, connects with the mouth and brings it to life.

This wax figure, an anatomical masterpiece, was fabricated by a German.

--Monsieur Vénus, Rachilde, 1884
So ends the lurid Monsieur Vénus, published by Rachilde in 1884, via a translation featured in Zone Books' The Decadent Reader: Fiction, Fantasy, and Perversion from Fin-de-Siècle France; Click here to find out more.

Image from cover of the wonderful book Flesh and Wax: Clemente Susini's Anatomical Wax in Cagliari University. Click here for more about this book. Click on image to see much larger and lovelier version.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Yinka Shonibare, Brooklyn Museum, Through September 20th

The Guillotine. The Grand Tour. Tableaux Vivant. The Masked Ball. The 1880s. Colonialism. The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. Oscar Wilde. Revisionist History. Spectacle on a Grand Scale.

If you have a chance to see the seriously epic and thought provoking Yinka Shonibare exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art before it comes down next Sunday, I simply cannot recommend it more highly.

From the website:
June 26–September 20, 2009
Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing, 4th Floor
Period Rooms, 4th Floor
Robert E. Blum Gallery, 1st Floor

This exhibition is a major midcareer survey of work by the UK-based Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE. Shonibare’s artwork explores contemporary African identity and its relationship to European colonialism through painting, sculpture, installation, and moving image. Shonibare is best known for his work with visual symbols, especially the richly patterned Dutch wax fabric produced in Europe for a West African market that he uses in a wide range of applications. His tableaux of headless mannequins costumed in this fabric evoke themes of history and its legacy for future generations. Through these works he explores the complex web of interactions, both economic and racial, that reveal inequalities between the dominant and colonized cultures of Europe, Asia, and Africa. A site-specific installation created for this presentation titled Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play will be on view in several of the Museum’s period rooms.

Another site-specific installation, Party Time—Re-Imagine America: A Centennial Commission by Yinka Shonibare MBE, will be on view at the Newark Museum in Newark, New Jersey, from July 1, 2009, to January 3, 2010, in the dining room of the museum’s 1885 Ballantine House.
For more exhibitions, events, and spectacles of interest around the world, visit the still-under-development Morbid Anatomy Events Calendar, by clicking here. To find out more about the exhibition, click here. Click here to view and/or purchase exhibition catalog from the new Morbid Anatomy Bookstore (all proceeds go to new Morbid Anatomy Library acquisitions).

Image, From Brooklyn Museum of Art Website: Yinka Shonibare MBE (b. United Kingdom, 1962). How to Blow Up Two Heads at Once (Ladies), 2006. Two life-size fiberglass mannequins, two guns, Dutch wax printed cotton, shoes, leather riding boots, plinth 63 x 96 1/2 x 48 in.; each figure 63 x 61 x 48 in. Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, Museum purchase, WellesleyCollege Friends of Art. Image courtesy of the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, and James Cohan Gallery, New York. © the artist. Photo: Stephen White

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Observatory "On Clouds" Art Opening, This Friday, September 18, from 7 to 10, Brooklyn, NY

If you're not doing anything this Friday night, why not join us at the opening party for Observatory's first art exhibition? Full details below; for directions, click here. The event is free and open to the public; hope to see you there!
Opening Party for On Clouds, An art exhibition organized by James Walsh
Friday, September 18, from 7 to 10
Exhibition open: Friday, September 18 through Sunday, November 15, 2009
543 Union Street (at Nevins), Brooklyn, NY 11215
Free and open to the public
Wine will be served

Observatory is proud to announce our first gallery exhibition, On Clouds, organized by James Walsh, opening Friday, September 18, from 7 to 10.

With prints and photographs by James Walsh in the gallery, and an evening program of projections, performances, poetry, and other events by various artists throughout the run of the show.

Clouds have long been the object of scientific study and artistic depiction. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, the emerging science of meteorology allowed the fleeting and apparently formless clouds to be closely observed, categorized, and recorded. At this same time, in England and Germany, painters and poets also began to look more intently at clouds. While insisting on artifice and inspiration over mere recording, they increasingly sought to give their work a sense of greater realism and emotional power by focusing on the careful observation and accurate depiction of the natural world. The worlds of science and art were much closer then, with artists and scientists meeting in society and following each others’ work, and this allowed a shared culture to develop. At its best, detached observation was allied with emotional projection, and imagination was grounded and enriched by careful, systematic recording, all in the service of what they called natural philosophy and we would call natural history.

In this exhibition, James Walsh will present three bodies of work that trace this blending of science and art in the depiction of clouds from the early 1800s to the early 1900s.

The video Constable’s Clouds (8 min., 2009) looks at the English landscape painter John Constable and the period from 1819 to 1822 when, departing from the traditions of landscape painting and assuming the role of artist-as-scientist, he painted the clouds and sky alone. He summarized his attitude during these years when he said in a lecture “Painting is a science, and should be pursued as an inquiry into the laws of nature. Why, then, may not landscape be considered as a branch of natural philosophy, of which pictures are but the experiments?” On Wednesday, October 21 at 8pm, this video will be projected along with the work of other artists in a program of lectures, video, and performance.
So please, come help us celebrate the first of many Observatory exhibitions! More information can be found here. We very much hope to see you there.

Image: video still from James Walsh, Constable's Clouds, 8 min., 2009

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"An Infinity of Things" New Book on the Collection of Henry Wellcome

I just finished reading a review of a new book about Henry Wellcome, late-19th/early 20th Century pharmaceutical magnate and maniacal collector, man behind the beloved and much-discussed on this blog Wellcome Collection. The book, entitled An Infinity of Things and written by Frances Larson, bills itself as "the biography of a collection" rather than a biography proper; I can think of no better collection to be given a biography of this sort, for, of all the collections I have read about, Wellcome's is certainly the most fascinating.

Before his lonely demise in 1936, Wellcome's collection--spanning the history of medicine in the broadest of possible senses-- totalled "around 1.5 million books and objects, dwarfing those of Europe's most famous museums."[1] He collected with a kind of William Randolph Hearst-esque zeal, drive, and folly. An extraordinarily rich man, he had in his employ agents all around the world purchasing lots for his collection; one imagines a constant stream of crates arriving from all around the globe, with employees shuffling the boxes--un-opened and un-cataloged--into warehouses where they sat until his death.

Viewing the remnants of his collection today--as one is invited to do at the Wellcome Collection's "Medicine Man" and in the "Science and Art of Medicine Galleries" at the Science Museum--one sees a dizzying, discipline-defying accumulation of artifacts ranging from erotica to artworks, prosthetics to votives, vanitas to dentures, shrunken heads to Napoleon's toothbrush, Darwin's walking stick (second image down) to condoms, trepanation devices to glass eyes, and much, much more (images and more here and here). Wellcome's collection methodology begins with the history of medicine but then extends beyond those traditional boundaries to the acquisition of any and all objects relating to the life, death, health, culture, and beliefs of "mankind."

Ultimately, this broadening interest in the artifactual history of mankind led Henry Wellcome to attempt to establish a "Museum of Man," intended to be a "...reconstruction of every stage in humankind’s development by means of objects....to form a three-dimensional book presenting an all-encompassing history of humankind’s fight for survival through the ages." [2] The creeping scope of Wellcome's collection--from the history of medicine to the whole of humanity--beautifully illustrates a truism about the history of medicine which, I believe, is at the heart of what makes it such a rich and fascinating vein to such a wide audience. Namely, when one begins to follow the path of the history of medicine, it quickly becomes clear that it is difficult to find where the path ends; in fact, it extends out in a series of networks to every discipline relating to mankind--anthropology, archeology, literature, philosophy, psychology, art history, intellectual history, religious studies... The history of medicine--which is really the history of our attempts to hold death and disease at bay--is, in fact, the history of humanity. Wellcome explored this with notion with great gusto via his magnificent collection, and his legacies--the Wellcome Collection, the Wellcome Library and the Wellcome Trust--carry on his passion, inspiring a new generation. I can't wait to read this book and learn more about the man and his collection!

Here is some more about the book, from the review on the New Scientist website:
Cooper's painting [see top image] was part of a series commissioned by the pharmaceutical entrepreneur Henry Wellcome for his museum of medical history, which opened in 1913. Like other objects there, it was a mixture of the real and the fake. "Part science, part obsession, part research, part entertainment, part benefaction, part self-promotion: Wellcome's great Historical Medical Museum was always more of a fantasy than a reality," writes Frances Larson in An Infinity of Things.

Wellcome was born in a Wisconsin log cabin in 1853. By the time he died in 1936, grudgingly admired but unloved, he was a millionaire, knight, and the owner of a grotesquely overwhelming collection of objects from around the globe. Largely uncatalogued in various warehouses in London, virtually none of it was exhibited, despite his dream of building a "complete" museum on the history of illness and health. Today, it is mostly dispersed through the UK's museums, with a selection on elegant display at the Wellcome Collection in London.

Accurately billed not as a biography but as "the biography of a collection", the book is penetratingly honest. In places it reads as a gripping story of a bit of a monster, but Larson is too much the fastidious scholar - and too little the imaginative writer - to sensationalise the material. So the story is muted, along with the iniquity. She notes Wellcome's "boundless curiosity", which is evident in his collection, but what she documents is his boundless and ruthless acquisitiveness. One chapter is titled "The whole of India should be ransacked" - a quote from Wellcome's instructions to his collector in India. By the end, one feels rather sickened at the futility of his avarice.
Read the entire review (and check out photo-gallery, from which above images are drawn) by clicking here. To pre-order the book from Amazon, click here.

If Wellcome and his curious collection are of interest to you, you might want to visit these previous posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. You might also want to check out the book Medicine Man: The Forgotten Museum of Henry Wellcome, a great and very visual introduction to the man and his collection; click here to find out more. You can also visit the Wellcome Collection website by clicking here, the Wellcome Library collection by clicking here, and the Wellcome Trust website by clicking here. You can also read more about the life and collection of Wellcome by clicking here.

Image captions, top to bottom:
1) Chloroform. This 1912 watercolour painting by Richard Tennant Cooper shows demons with surgical instruments attacking an unconscious man on an operating table. It conveys fears of the vulnerability that accompanies the many benefits of surgery under anaesthetic. (Image: Wellcome Library)
2) Darwin's walking stick. This walking stick, made from whalebone with an ivory skull pommel and green glass eyes, belonged to Charles Darwin. It was made at some point between 1839 and 1881. (Image: Wellcome Library)
3) Glass eyes. Fifty glass eyes stare out of this case, made around 1900, possibly by E. Muller of Liverpool, UK. (Image: Wellcome Library)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

George Krause, "Saints and Martyrs" Series, 1963-Present

I just stumbled up a really magnificent photo series by Texas-based artist, photographer, and teacher George Krause. Called "Saints and Martyrs," it was apparently begun in 1963 while he was in Mexico shooting a story on amateur boxing for Sports Illustrated. The series is a moody and haunting exploration of the anonymously-produced and stirringly beautiful saints and martyrs--many of them made of wax, resplendent on velvet cushions beneath old glass--which fill the churches of Italy, Mexico, and Central America.

More about the series, from his website:
"Saints and Martyrs pays homage to the anonymous artisans who fashioned the statues...These sculptures transcend most folk art," (Krause) says. 'They are not conceptually motivated. The sculptor felt the suffering, and it allowed him to create something beyond himself and beyond the repetitive forms usually handed down among folk artists. I am responding to the artisan's passion and his unique vision."
George Krause, A Retrospective, Anne W. Tucker
All images are from George Krause's "Saints and Martyrs" set on his Flickr page; you can see more of this series (which I highly recommend! There were far too many wonderful images to include here) by clicking here; click 0n images to see much larger versions. You can visit his webpage by clicking here.

Via Fantomatic via Outrepart.

Friday, September 4, 2009

"Dormitorium: Film Decors by the Quay Brothers," Exhibition," Parsons, NYC

Last night I went to check out the wonderful "Dormitorium: Film Decors by the Quay Brothers" exhibition at Parsons, which features miniature sets, props, and characters constructed by the Quay Brothers' and used as source material for their unforgettable and highly influential stop-motion animated films. These "décors" (in the exhibition's parlance) are presented as static silent narrative worlds; it is as if you had peeked into each tiny space mid-shoot, characters and props all in their place, just waiting to be brought to life by the film-maker's art.

"Dormitorium" is much more than just a collection of props and artifacts; instead, the "décors" you see on view here are something of a revelation, leading one to a greater understanding and appreciation of the Quay Brother's artistry. Having the luxury of time to study these décors in their static state allows the viewer to see things impossible to grasp amidst the thrust and drive of the films; namely, the obsessive and beautiful detail in the source materials. The more one looks, the more one comes to realize that this attention to detail and minutia is what gives the Quay's work so much of its character and mise en scène--at least as much as their lurchy, atmospheric, uncanny stop-motion animation technique. Details such as exquisite and varied typography and calligraphy, a judicious application of dust and grime, the seductively hand-made feel of the materials, and wall hangings, hidden figures, archaic signage and other easy-to-miss details adorning the spaces; of these elements is the Quay's compelling and absorbing universe composed.

In a nice installation decision, also on view in the exhibition are the films themselves, allowing the viewer to go from the décors to the films and back again, encouraging insights into the ways in which the Brothers expertly use cinematic techniques, selective and shifting focus, and obscured views to bring their static miniature worlds to vivid and uncanny life, imbuing them with a sense of depth and abundance of space so at odds with scale and scope of the sets.

More about the exhibition, from Parson's website:
"Dormitorium" explores the macabre fantasy world of twin brothers Stephen and Timothy Quay through the highly detailed miniature sets of their influential stop-motion animations. "Dormitorium", which originated at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, represents the first time the décors of the London-based Quays have been exhibited in N. America. The Brothers have built a cult following with their dark, moody films, which are heavily influenced by Eastern European film, literature, and music and often feature disassembled dolls and no spoken dialogue. The exhibition combines rarely seen, collaboratively designed miniature décors from some of their most prominent works, as well as continuous screenings of excerpts from several of the films.
The exhibition will be on view until Sunday, October 4th, 2009 at Parson School of Design's Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery; you can find out more by clicking here. I highly highly recommend you pay it a visit, whether you are already a Quay Brothers fan or not!

All photos* are mine, taken at the exhibition; you can see more by clicking here. You can view some of the Quay Brothers' films on You Tube by clicking here; better yet, buy yourself the film collection "Phantom Museums: The Short Films of the Quay Brothers" and watch the entire 2-DVD collection in fine quality at home; click here to purchase from the Morbid Anatomy Bookstore (all proceeds benefit the Morbid Anatomy Library).

*Images: Top 2 images from set for Bruno Schulz's Street of Crocodiles; Next 2 images from set for The Cabinet of Jan Švankmajer, bottom image from set for The Calligrapher.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Another Phenakistoscope Gif Animation

Another phenakistoscope gif anamation, found on Wikipedia. Click here to see more.

Caption reads: 

CREATOR Muybridge, Eadweard, 1830-1904, artist.
TITLE The zoopraxiscope* - a couple waltzing (No. 35., title from item.)
SUMMARY Images on a disc which when spun gives the illusion of a couple dancing.
MEDIUM 1 print : lithograph, color.
CREATED/PUBLISHED c1893 (14699Y U.S. Copyright Office). Copyright by Eadweard Muybridge (expired).
SUBJECTS Dance--1890-1900; Locomotion--1890-1900; Optical illusions--1890-1900.
FORMAT Optical toys 1890-1900; Lithographs Color 1890-1900.

Exhibited at "Moving Pictures : The Un-easy Relationship between American Art and Early Film" at the Williams College of Art, MA, and other venues, 2005-2007.