Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Eulogy to The Morbid Anatomy Museum: Guest Post by Scholar in Residence Evan Michelson

Below is a lovely eulogy to the now sadly defunct Morbid Anatomy Museum by good friend, scholar in residence, collaborator, co-curator, partner in crime and board member Evan Michelson. It really captures the essence of what we were, from someone who was there from our inception as a tiny space at the no longer extant Proteus Gowanus to our grand Museum on the corner. The Museum could never have happened without her. RIP MAM!
The Morbid Anatomy Museum was a modest place. It was thrown together in a matter of months, on a shoestring budget, in a flurry of generous, well-meaning chaos. It all started with a spark between people who love ideas, and people who wanted to make those ideas manifest. From the little library in Proteus Gowanus to the big black box on the corner of Third Avenue, The Morbid Anatomy Museum was both inevitable and ephemeral.

The Museum rode the crest of a cultural wave - we were a part of the ascendence of weirdness, and the mainstream embrace of the culture of curiosity. Morbid Anatomy was a community that gathered regularly to celebrate those strange, liminal ideas that led to the unexpected places where death, beauty, science and spirit meet. We were a museum with a tiny permanent collection - our space was always meant to highlight the collections and obsessions of others. Artists, academics, rogue intellectuals, writers, thinkers, doers, collectors; all were welcome. Wanderers, fetishists, makers and itinerate thinkers (many impeccably dressed) found a home there as well. Plots were hatched, connections were made, classes were taught, lessons were learned. Most importantly, inspiration was generated and passed on from one synapse to another; we kept the collective mind humming. It was incredibly exciting to be a part of all that, and to watch it all unfold.

We were a somewhat ramshackle cultural institution. Our furniture was borrowed and snapped up as it was needed. We had a tiny staff who worked wonders and volunteers who kept us together. Aside from the lovely bare bones of the space (conceived of by architects generous with their time) the Museum was cobbled together by whatever means we had at our disposal at that moment. Morbid Anatomy was neither designed nor “envisioned." Our black box was not pre-planned, market-tested or audience-approved. There was no tasteful lighting, no wallpaper or carpeting. There was not a speck of luxury. The lecture space was a basement with a low ceiling where the rain sometimes crept in between the steel doors. It was cramped, and it overheated easily. It was anything but comfortable. But we gathered there for years, trudging through every kind of weather to hear what each other had to say. We stuffed animals in that room. We had flea markets and watched films. We had festivals, short lectures, mini concerts, readings and demonstrations. In that dark little basement we lighted each other’s way.

The Museum proper was one room and a tiny hallway. Our community filled it with strange and wonderful taxidermied beasts, antique anatomical waxes and Victorian hairwork. Rare books, magical contraptions, memorial objects, old photographs, ethnographic wonders and displays of unexpected and arcane objects - we made a place for them all. Curious items came, were admired, then made their way back to private places. The real beauty in that room happened when someone fell in love with something. The looks of wonder, delight, bafflement and surprise were themselves a wonder to behold. You could see the gears turning, you could watch ideas being generated and connections being made. It was exciting, it was an honor and a privilege to be a part of that, to help reveal what was formerly hidden.

And what people came! The famous, the celebrated, the relentlessly dedicated, the intrepid, the curious: everyone brought something to the table. People came from all over the world to our little museum because they’d heard that wonders resided there. Some were disappointed, it’s true, at the small scale of the place. Some were taken aback by how roug-hewn we were. The Morbid Anatomy Museum was neither slick nor cosmopolitan. That was never a part of the plan: we had the feel of a regional museum, presenting and protecting the legacy of obscure obsessives everywhere. Most visitors, however, came away with something they hadn’t expected: a newly-found appreciation for the decorative possibilities of human hair, or the perverse splendor of a kittens’ wedding. Most people got it.

Museums are places of inspiration - they are arks containing objects, ideas and cultures. Even the most humble roadside museum is a place of love, obsession and a desire to share and protect. The Morbid Anatomy Museum sought to preserve and nurture those objects, people and ideas that fell through the cracks of other museum collections. We sought to nurture something liminal and elusive. We curated the collective unconscious. It made for a tough tagline, it was difficult to define, it wasn’t pithy or easily-understood, but that was our mission and we stuck to it. In the end that was probably part of our undoing, but we succeeded in so many ways, and beyond all reason.

Ultimately, the Morbid Anatomy Museum was a community, international in scope. It was everyone who came through our doors, everyone who took classes, attended lectures and visited exhibitions. It was everyone who traveled with us overseas as well. It was everyone who generously gave of their time and expertise, who shared something invaluable, scarce and unfamiliar. It was a combined energy and passion, a love of the arcane and all the things that flutter around the edges. It was a love for and fascination with an unspoken and elusive commonality, tied up in strange objects and brilliant insights. Morbid Anatomy was all of us, together, endlessly fascinated.

Monday, December 19, 2016


We regret very much to inform you that our most recent project--the Morbid Anatomy Museum--has ceased operations.

We are incredibly grateful to the many people--presenters, enthusiasts, teachers, visitors, contributors, collectors, donors, board members and more--who made up this wonderful community dedicated to the celebration of artifacts, histories and ideas that fall between the cracks of high and low culture. We look forward to seeing how our many friends and collaborators will continue to explore their interests now that the Museum has closed.

Over the past two and a half years, we have worked hard to create a museum unlike any other, and to support a community that values our distinctive exhibitions, lecture series, and workshops. We are proud of the unique, award winning and critically acclaimed work we have done. Good press, however--as we have learned--does not pay the rent. Our institution was made possible by an incredible investment from our co-founder and a dedicated group of early supporters, but we were sadly unable to develop the broad support from our audience and from grants, gifts, and other sponsorship that is necessary for sustainability.

So again, many, many thanks to all of you--our friends, collaborators, and stakeholders--for believing in us, and for your support of so many kinds. 

More to come!
Your friends at Morbid Anatomy

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Help The Morbid Anatomy Museum Keep its Doors Open

Why support Morbid Anatomy? Click the play button above or this link to see our filmmaker in residence Ronni Thomas' take on that question.

Dear Friends,

We are writing to ask for your support in keeping the Morbid Anatomy Museum open. If we cannot raise $75,000 with this year’s annual appeal, we face the very real prospect that the Museum will close in the coming months. Our institution was made possible by the generous investment of private donors along with a dedicated group of early supporters, but we are at the limit of what we can ask them to give. We need your support to carry the Museum into 2017.

You can make a tax deductible donation now by clicking here.

Over the past two years, we have worked hard to create a museum unlike any other, and to support a community that values our distinctive exhibitions, lecture series, and workshops. We’re proud of the award winning and critically acclaimed work we have done, and we are striving to keep the Morbid Anatomy Museum affordable and accessible to our passionate community and the general public. Good press doesn’t pay the rent, however.

We need to expand our membership base and the financial support from our community if the Museum is to continue operations. If you have not joined as a member, please do. We are only 2,000 members away from breaking even in the coming year. We need your financial support if you want the Morbid Anatomy Museum to be an enduring part of the cultural fabric.

In addition to your support, we are working hard to ensure that we develop a broad base of funders so that we can be a sustainable institution. Those efforts take time, and by becoming a member today or making a tax-deductible contribution now, you help us have the time we need. With two years of successful programming behind us, we are just becoming eligible for federal and state grant programs, but these funds are increasingly difficult to acquire, even for the most established of museums.

And let's face facts: there are not a lot of grant programs for “death and beauty,” and there is no major philanthropic foundation dedicated to “the celebration of artifacts, histories and ideas that fall between the cracks of high and low culture.” Our founders have been exceptionally generous in seeing us through the launch of this incredible experiment, but we need to build a stronger base of support from our community to continue our efforts.

If you love what we do; if you want to support the kind of unique programming and educational opportunities we provide; if you enjoy the boundary-pushing exhibitions we produce, then please consider making a donation today so that our work can continue.

Happily, the one category the Morbid Anatomy Museum does fit is a 501(c)3 charitable non profit, so all donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law! We are a chartered museum registered with the New York State Charities Bureau, and further information may be obtained by visiting our website at morbidanatomymuseum.org or by calling 347-799-1017.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Curious Intersections of Death And Beauty: Taped Tedx Talk by Morbid Anatomy Creator Joanna Ebenstein

Above you will find a video of a recent Tedx talk by Morbid Anatomy's creator Joanna Ebenstein. You can also watch it here. Text below from Tedx website. Hope you enjoy!
When you think of death, what comes to mind? Fear? Anxiety? Loss? Have you ever thought of death as something...beautiful? In this photography-filled talk, artist and museum curator Joanna Ebenstein explores the ways death is celebrated around the world—from a cause for festivities and wonder, to a mysterious, marvelous moment that should be honored and preserved. Joanna Ebenstein is a multidisciplinary artist, death enthusiast, and cofounder of Brooklyn’s Morbid Anatomy Museum.
This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/t