Saturday, January 31, 2015

"The Witches’ Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn, 16th Century, From the collection of Jennifer Butkevich: Prints Now Available!
One our favorite pieces in our new Collector's Cabinet exhibition--on view at The Morbid Anatomy Museum through March 29th--is "The Witches’ Cove," a 16th century oil on panel painting depicting a Boschian vision of a witches celebration, complete with unspeakable acts galore and cats dancing in a ring. We know precious little about the painting, which is the work of a follower of Jan Mandijn and resides in the collection of Morbid Anatomy Museum board member Jennifer Butkevich.

Due to popular demand, we have produced prints of both the entire painting and the beloved "Cat's Dance" detail seen above. You can find out--and order prints of your own!--by clicking here.

More on the piece, in the words of its owner:
It has monsters and grotesques and dancing kitties. What else do you need?
It takes me to a fantasy world of another time. It makes you fantasize about what people were thinking back in the 16th century. Its very much a fantasy land. For some people, that might be a nightmare, but for me, its a dream world.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Pantheon for the Counts of Buenavista in Malaga: Guest Post by Felipe Trigo Redondo

Our friend Felipe Trigo Redondo (aka "Kaiser Noir")--historian, tour guide, co-organizer of the Barcelona Congress of Curious Peoples and director of Kriminal Kabarett--just sent in the following guest post about, in his own words, "the most spectacular piece of funerary art from all the Spanish Baroque era: the Pantheon for the Counts of Buenavista!" All photos by Angel Trullen; hope you enjoy!
The Pantheon for the Counts of Buenavista in Malga
By Felipe Trigo Redondo
On a journey to Andalusia, the extreme south of the Iberian peninsula, the traveler will always be surrounded by the echoes of an astounding past, between the brightness of transcendental moments for the whole humanity (the superb arts patronized by the Arabian princes and the strength of the poets from the 20th century) and the darkness of terrible cataclysms, such as the medieval wars, the coming of the Inquisition and the "last Crusade": the Spanish Civil War.

Malaga, founded by the Phoenicians and one of the oldest cities in the Mediterranean, is the paradigm of this tragic sense of life in this land praised during Antiquity as the end of the world, the country beyond the Pillars of Hercules. Indeed, the death is omnipresent in the religious beliefs and thoughts of the Andalusian people. We are going to see in depth how these people expressed this collective state of mind during the end of the 17th century, introducing the most spectacular piece of funerary art from all the Spanish Baroque era: the Pantheon for the Counts of Buenavista.

Before the catastrophic fall of Malaga in 1487 (the Christians enslaved all the Muslim inhabitants in the city) the king Fernando V settled his military quarters outside the city walls. After the defeat of the Muslims, this place was consecrated to Our Lady of Victory ("Nuestra Señora de la Victoria") and soon a sanctuary was built to commemorate this day. Malaga, would never recover its former splendor as the main port for the kingdom of Granada. Towards the middle of the 17th century, the disastrous wars for the Spanish monarchy, the economic crisis, plagues and famines devastated the country. This dramatic situation shaped the spirit of pessimism that influenced arts and literature during this time, which was paradoxically, the Golden Age for the Spanish culture.
The church of "Nuestra Señora de la Victoria," built in the Gothic style, was almost ruined in 1680. However, this religious complex would achieve its definitive glory due to the intervention of Juan Francisco Guerrero y Chavarino (1660-1699) a banker from a family of merchants. He supported the Spanish monarchy with his own funds and, for this reason, was appointed governor of Antequera and then ennobled and named count of Buenavista. With an immense fortune, he settled in Malaga to live in a luxurious palace which is today the Pablo Picasso Museum.

As a new aristocrat, he joined the tradition of the most powerful men in Andalucia, being the patron of the sanctuary of "Nuestra Señora de la Victoria," restoring the temple and building his extraordinary museum under the apotheosis of the Virgin. Following the structure of a tower, the count placed his tomb in the lowest level, an oratory in the middle and the sacred chamber for the Virgin on the top, as the church's main altar. This work forms a whole masterpiece as a total allegory of death and resurrection. It is also a political manifesto as a victory against the Devil and the enemies for the Catholic Church.
The pantheon itself is an esoteric treatise carved in stone. The vault is sustained by two massive columns, the symbolic connection between the afterlife and the Paradise. The decoration is extremely complex. The figures in plaster were executed under the direction of Felipe de Unzurrunzaga (1654-1740), the most important Baroque architect in the city of Malaga. He began this work in 1689, under the influence of the macabre art from the funerary chapels in Messina and Palermo, two cities already visited by him and then under Spanish control. A constellation of skulls and bones shines in the black ceiling, while a grotesque Spanish version of the European "Totentanz", the Dance of Death, occupies the walls. All the topics on death in the literature of the Spanish Golden age (very usual for writers as Quevedo, Calderón de la Barca, Gracián) are encircling the tombs for the count and his wife. We also can see the Roman "Parcae,” female personifications of Destiny, often called the Fates in English. The skeletons are holding mirrors to reflect the mortality and the last fate of humankind.
In the words of Juan Temboury (an historian who studied in depth this church) the pantheon for the counts of Buenavista is the definitive depiction of the three states or ages which every human being should follow, from penitence and abstinence to the absolute vision of God. The sumptuous figures in the tombs, dressed in the lavish courtesan fashion, are portraits of the young counts praying in the darkness. This is a perfect example of two literary topics: "Tempus Fugit" and "Carpe Diem" because, despite his economic power and splendorous style of life, the count died quite young, just after the completion of his mausoleum. A gilded cross was erected between the two aristocrats, symbolizing the path to salvation through the Christian alchemy, from the absolute darkness to the divine gold.
Leaving the tenebrous vault, the visitor takes the staircase to the oratory (a chapel of severe austerity) and then the Virgin’s sacred chamber, where a Gothic German sculpture of Holy Mary presides the scene. Here, the sacred trip is completed for the devout souls of the count and his wife, ascending to the ecstasy in the contemplation of God’s Mother. The decoration is an absolute catharsis in baroque style, with elements from botanic and heraldic inspiration (the imperial coat of the Spanish monarchy is also included). This is an extraordinary ensemble which has been identified as the Virgin’s garden in Heaven. The mirrors are also present, but this time reflecting the light of immortality, in an explosion of the last possibilities of baroque art, a genuine Spanish style called “churrigueresco.” This triumph over Death and the demonic forces of sin is a parallel version of Saint James enthroned in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, also in the same style “churrigueresco.”
Death was always present in the collective conscience of the Andalusian people. The pantheon for the counts of Buenavista is the last jewel of Spanish funerary baroque, preceded by the morbid paintings by Claudio Coello in the “Hospital de la Caridad” in Sevilla, also a religious foundation sustained by a wealthy merchant. Today, the pantheon is being discovered by curious travelers from around the world and they even have the possibility to visit the crypt during the night by candlelight, as did the count himself, contemplatin the realms of death. This place has been chosen as one of the marvels in the city of Malaga by art connoisseurs and photographers, as Malaga is reaching more and more notoriety for its cultural activity and its iconic museums and collections. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Oh Santo Niño Doctor! A Guest Post by Entomologist in Residence Daisy Tainton

Following is a guest post by our entomologist in residence Daisy Tainton about one of the most enigmatic vernacular saints we encountered in Mexico: the lavishly eyelashed Santo Niño Doctor!
Oh Santo Niño Doctor!
Right my wrongs and
Forgive my sins.

This is the prayer on the back of a pamphlet about St. Dr. Baby that I found in a church in Zacatecas, Mexico.

As I write this, it has not been long since my statuette of Santo Niño Doctor flung himself from a low bookshelf in my bedroom and shattered. Was he sick of me? Was he full of my sins and wrongs, such that I no longer need him? Or should I not have put him in the bedroom, considering his youth and purity level?

During the Morbid Anatomy field trip to Mexico in 2014 for Day of the Dead, many of us noticed and were captivated by an unusual demi-saint in the pantheon. Occasionally nestled among the more typical Jesus and Virgin statues, there was a child with dark hair and wide eyes, usually seated on a particular chair with three rays of light radiating from his head, a cushion under his feet, and a Doctor's white coat.

Juarez Market in Monterey yielded a lovely molded plastic statuette of Doctor Baby, or SDB, with lovely false eyelashes and a wide, caring expression. A man with a buzz cut and tattoos all the way up to his eyeballs sold him to me, after extricating him with incredulity from a case crowded with likenesses of the Virgin, Jesus Malverde and Santa Muerte(the latter two especially beloved by the criminal and marginalized elements to which this market evidently catered). Lots of neck tattoos and thick accents in these parts. An older woman with a bag of bundled herbs asked if my friend and I were scared to be there, but I believe we made it clear that nothing seemed threatening below the surface. She demanded to know why we liked Santa Muerte, and said this saint is bad. SDB on the other hand was a saint she could get behind. She nodded her approval of my little statue.

Santos of this sort, smacking of idolatry, have a long tradition in Mexican Catholicism. This spritely saint is actually an alternate Jesus, as he began as a statue of the holy infant that was taken by a nun to a hospital and eventually, in mascot-like fashion, dressed as a child-doctor. The baby Jesus, robed in white hospital garments and accessorized with a stethoscope and black doctor's bag, became a separate entity known as SDB. The infirm, their relatives and loved ones pray to him for health and swore that he provided results. Eventually a cult-like following sprang up, with a yearly procession and celebration in his honor.
  1.  Cover of Santo Niño Doctor prayer book
  2.  Santo Niño Doctor statuette in Mexico
  3. Santo Niño Doctor statuette belonging in author's home
  4.  Santo Niño Doctor statuette in Mexico City
  5. Santo Niño Doctor earrings made by the author

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Vesalius: Imagining the Body Exhibition, Leuven, Belgium: A Guest Post by Michael Sappol, National Library of Medicine

Following is another guest post by our good friend Michael Sappol--author of A Traffic of Dead Bodies, curator of Dream Anatomy, and historian at the National Library of Medicine--about an excellent looking exhibition in Leuven:
I recently had the privilege of participating in a brilliant three-day international conference on “Bodies Beyond Borders: The Circulation of Anatomical Knowledge, 1750-1950”.  The symposium — a smart mix of well-established scholars and new talent — was held in Leuven, Belgium, an ancient city full of charmingly twisted cobblestone streets and alleys. In the central square, the old town hall is covered from top to bottom with hundreds of stone figures. It’s a “where’s Waldo” exercise to spot anybody in particular, but one of the figures is the founder of modern anatomy, Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). Vesalius twice studied at the University of Leuven (1530, 1536) before going on to Padua, where he performed dissections, gave lectures, wrote treatises and authored De humani corporis fabrica (1543), the first great illustrated atlas of anatomy.

Leuven also has a wonderful art museum: “M-Museum”. To commemorate the 500th anniversary of Vesalius’s birth, M has put on a brilliant show of anatomical art and objects. As one might expect, there are first editions of Vesalius, along with a register from the 1530s that lists Vesalius as one of the students enrolled in the university. But the exhibition goes from there right up to the present, and features many rare and amazing drawings, paintings, prints, models, sculptures, even the first x-ray “cinematograph” (1898). Highlights for me: Clemente Susini’s exquisite wax sculpture of a dissected cadaveric head (4th image down; 1798); Jan Wandelaar’s bigger than life-size sketches for Albinus’s Tabulae sceleti et musculorum (ca. 1726); a brilliantly hand-colored engraving of a 17th-century Dutch anatomical theater (bottom image); and… (Actually, I loved almost everything on display, and also love the way it was displayed. Congratulations to curator Geert Vanpaemel!)

You probably wish you could go to Leuven to see this show, but you can’t: it closes on January 18. (Boo-hoo.) (Sob.)
Following is more info about the exhibition, from the M-Museum website; you can find out more by clicking here.
From THU 02/10 until SUN 18/01
M-Museum Leuven
Leopold Vanderkelenstraat 28, 3000 Leuven
Curator: Geert Vanpaemel
The exhibition at M is the beating heart and the must see highlight of the citywide project, both for Vesalius experts and novices.

The exhibition highlights various and unexpected sides of Vesalius. You can admire the original version of the voluminous book 'Fabrica' or page through the digital version. Discover all about his life, work and life's work, from his humanist background to his direct influence on his contemporaries.

Discover how Greek sculpture inspired Vesalius, walk among detailed anatomical sketches and wax statues, and meet the famous Glass Man. Be amazed by the 'living' dead who candidly reveal what is concealed under their skin and experience how Vesalius' anatomical knowledge lives on in art and science. For example, even Rodin and Matisse were inspired by Vesalius' muscle men.

The exhibition presents a life-sized replica of an anatomical theatre – the place where live dissections were once performed. The exhibition also focuses on the evolution of medical imaging over the past 500 years. You can see how anatomy developed into a fully-fledged branch of medicine and how the human body gradually revealed its secrets over the centuries. Thanks to the possibilities that 3D modelling now provide, you can also explore the medical science of the future.

Vesalius will get under the skin of all the visitors to M, that much is certain. But you will also be captivated by the other cultural projects related to the world-famous anatomist. So come prepared!
  1. Franz Tschackert, De Glazen man, 1930 © Deutsches Hygiene Museum, Dresden, inv. Volker Kreidler 1962.
  2. Jacques Gautier D'Agoty , compleat Myologie color and natural size, 1746
  3. Andreas Vesalius, De Tabulae Anatomicae, ca. 1540 © Koninklijke Bibliotheek van België, inv. Imp II 42.417 C Est. 
  4. William Pink, Smugglerius, 1834 (orig. 1775)  © Isabelle Arthuis 
  5. Clemente Susini, De innervatie van het gezicht, 1798. © Muséum national d'histoire naturelle, Parijs - Direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.
  6. Waxwork by Clemente Susini and painting  Anatomy Lesson of Dr . Frederik Ruysch by Adriaen Backer © Isabelle Arthuis 
  7. Bust of a woman by André -Pierre Pinson and painting ' Anatomy Lesson of Dr . Frederik Ruysch ' from ' Adriaen Backer © Isabelle Arthuis 
  8. Installation photo, © Isabelle Arthuis 
  9. Anatomical theater, Joannes Blaeu Show Neel of the cities of the Vereenighde, Netherlands, with their descriptions 1649 © Royal Library of Belgium , III 94 530 E 1  

"Looking At Death:" A Conversation With Barbara Norfleet : Guest Post by Cristina Preda

We Die and See Beauty Reign by Cristina Preda on Grooveshark
Following is a guest post in which one of our beloved Morbid Anatomy docents, Cristina Preda, delves deeper into one of her favorite books in the Morbid Anatomy Library: Barbara Norfleet's fabulous Looking at Death. In the course of her interview with the author/curator, Norfleet mentioned that she had compiled a tape of death-themed songs to play as accompaniment during the exhibition at Harvard. Inspired by her idea and echoing a couple of her selections, Preda put together a playlist of her own (above); she encourages readers to add their favorite songs about death in the comments.

Looking At Death: A Conversation With Barbara Norfleet
by Cristina Preda 
Photographer, curator, lecturer, and historian Barbara Norfleet’s 1993 book, Looking at Death, which can be found in the research library at Morbid Anatomy, is a collection of black and white photographs spanning more than a century and depicting a vast spectrum of death along with the attitudes surrounding it, from staged death in theater productions and posed Victorian memento moris to crime scene photos, war reportage, and tribal rituals. She was gracious enough to take the time to speak with me from her home in Massachusetts recently just as an all-­too-­short autumn began giving way to cooler temperatures. 
Can you begin by talking a little bit about the book and what the impetus was to create it?
All my photo projects always tend to be something that is sort of new that other people haven’t thought of doing, so I think that was one motivation. But I think the reason I did it is because I was going through all these negatives to set up the archive of candids by professional photographers at Harvard when I took over the role as curator of photography, and it just happened by chance that this whole wealth of material was there for the asking. Professional photographers were just thrilled to be recognized, and they couldn’t have been happier to let me go through all their negatives and take what I wanted. It was in the process of going through negative files on weddings that I found, particularly with the older photographers or second generation photographers, that their files had more pictures of dead people than they did of weddings. If you really go back to the turn of the century I don’t think there was as horrible a feeling about death. The files just were filled with negatives that people had taken of loved ones who had died, and that was for a couple of reasons. One, they saw no reason not to. There was no barrier. And the second thing is, particularly in the beginnings of photography, they did not have a portrait of their loved one so they would take a picture when the person died just to have a memory of them. 
It doesn’t sound like it was too difficult to collect information.
No, it wasn’t difficult, particularly the memento mori pictures. It was much more difficult to collect all the other pictures. For instance, if you take the anthropological pictures of death and the medical pictures, I had to go through enormous archives to pick the ones I would use. The violent death pictures came from medical schools, and I think they had something like 120 volumes. It was the history of crime for a whole period in time.  
In the violent death chapter you talk about how many of the photos you found were a lot more horrifying than the ones that were printed.
When I was younger I used to go to the Oracle meetings for curators. It’s a group of worldwide photographers that got together once a year for three or four days and had meetings about what was going on in the curatorial world of photography. Before I did the death book I brought it up to them because it was so unusual. Nobody had really done a death book except for the one [Stanely] Burns did, and that was about beauty. It wasn’t really about death in the same way mine was in which I tried to show all kinds of death. [His] was a book that might make you sad, but it wouldn’t upset you in any way. When I brought up what I was doing and showed them some of the images I had, an awful lot of curators said that they were too disturbing and I shouldn’t do it, and the head of my department at Harvard said I couldn’t do it unless I also included life. But I did it anyway. 
How long would you say it took from the inception of this idea to actually compiling and publishing the book?
Well, I have a husband and children, and I was teaching at Harvard, running an archive, and doing shows. So, given that, it took as long as it took me to do each book I’ve ever done. It took me about three years. [For the show] what I did, and it was probably one of the most effective things I've ever done, was I made a tape of death music, everything from Bloody Sunday to Requiem to Strange Fruit and spirituals, and that played throughout the whole show. Everyone who came mentioned how important that was. I spent almost as much time making that tape as I did on the show, and a large number of people who came who had just experienced death said the show helped them tremendously. 
Is there a particular time period or historical moment, with regard to its attitudes about death, that you’d like to see explored more today?
It would be interesting to go through why the attitudes changed. When you get up to the 60s, people were still asking professional photographers to photograph everything. It was before everyone had their own camera and took their own pictures. You don’t find [death photos] after that. Those pictures stopped appearing. If you go back to the 19th century, they were much more common than wedding pictures. Wedding pictures were rare, even formal ones. Were people starting to take their own? I don’t think so. In my archive I collected a lot of family scrapbooks, and I never saw a death picture. 
But I do think that we’re beginning to speak about death openly again as a society.
I think there’s a huge movement for a decent death. My feeling is we think death in America is horrible, but we’re beginning to think people have the right to die just as they have right to free speech. 
Where would you like to see that conversation go?
I’d like to see people who were terminally ill be able to die if they wanted to and be helped just as we do with our dogs. Which brings up something you may know the answer to which really has bothered me. 
What’s that?
I’m a dog person. My dog is sitting beside me. I’ve had dogs all my life. When a dog is put to sleep, they inject it and it dies in your arms. It’s so peaceful, it’s just as if it fell asleep. Why haven’t they adopted this when we execute people? They always act like they don’t have another solution. 
I don’t think the people who are for execution intend for it to be peaceful. There’s a big guise that execution isn’t cruel and unusual, but it is cruel and unusual. People suffer greatly. It’s not a slow process.
We certainly have a way of putting people to sleep in a very peaceful way. It seems silly that we don’t use that knowledge when we’re taking somebody’s life away. You’re saying it’s vindictive. We want them to suffer. You’re probably right because the other solution is so easy.
All images from Looking at Death.

Monday, January 12, 2015

“Side Show” Exhibition and Event Series at the Yale School of Art: January 13 through March 20, 2015

News of this exciting new exhibition and event series which opens tomorrow, January 13th, just in from our friend and curator of this event Lisa Kereszi; following is the press release and, event schedule, and curator's statement:
The Yale School of Art (YSA) launches its 2015 season at the 32 Edgewood Avenue Gallery with “Side Show,” an exhibition devoted to the “believe it or not” world of the American sideshow, in which display of the abnormal and bizarre was the focus of the event. On view Jan. 13–Mar. 20, 2015, the exhibition is free and open to the public Tuesdays–Sundays from noon to 6 p.m.
“Side Show” presents more than 70 works by 29 artists — including Diane Arbus, Otto Dix, John Waters, and Riva Lehrer — ranging from the mid-18th century to the present. The show includes original sideshow banners, props, promotional cards, photographs, historical ephemera, and works of art inspired by circus and carnival culture from the Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG), Yale Medical School Library, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the International Center of Photography, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and private collections.
“Side Show” joins an array of television programs, Broadway shows, and books in recent popular culture highlighting showmanship of the exceptional. While some works in the exhibition celebrate the offbeat, taboo world of the sideshow, others explore issues ranging from racism to misogyny to politics to a society obsessed with superficial values, as well as the attitude toward those with disabilities.
Traditionally, a sideshow was a secondary production associated with a mainstream carnival or circus, offering spectacles in a makeshift tent. The popular “10-in-1” format included 10 acts in one show for one ticket. The sideshows would feature people born with physical oddities, such as bearded women or conjoined twins; death-defying acts such as sword-swallowing or fire-breathing; and exotic animals. A final, extra act not advertisedon the outside, called the “blow-off,” could be viewed for an additional fee.
“Side Show” ends with a wink and a nod to the “blow-off.” After seeing the main show, visitors can walk down a side gallery to view historical sideshow banners. They are confronted with a velvet curtain and a sign warning Yale Office of Public Affairs and Communications of the graphic nature of what they are about to see. According to exhibition organizers, the final “ding,” to use
carny lingo, it is not to be missed.
A complementary exhibition, “Teratology: The Science and History of Human Monstrosity,” will be on view Jan. 22–May 31 at Yale’s Cushing Medical Library, which is lending three works to the School of Art show. Located at 333 Cedar St., the library’s exhibition includes books, prints, and broadsides. It is also free and open to the public.
In addition, an exhibition opening in January at the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut — “Coney Island: Visions of America’s Dreamland, 1861-2008” — has been organized by Robin Jaffee Frank, former YUAG senior associate curator of American paintings and sculpture. Kereszi, who consulted on the Wadsworth exhibition, will have her own work featured in the Hartford show.
“Side Show” has been made possible at Yale by an anonymous donor, with support from the Hayden Fund for Arts and Ideas. An opening lecture by Ricky Jay, magician, collector, and historian, will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 13 at 5:30 p.m. at 36 Edgewood Ave., Rm. 204. The talk will be followed by a reception at the 32 Edgewood Avenue Gallery 6:30–8:30 p.m., with sideshow acts Johnny Fox and The Great Fredini, as well as a performancepiece by Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz.
Additional programs — all free and open to the public — include a panel discussion on Monday, Jan. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at 36 Edgewood Ave., Rm. 204, with performer Todd Robbins, sideshow impresario Dick Zigun ’78 M.F.A., performer and director Jennifer Miller, and artists Riva Lehrer and Pamela Joseph. The discussion will follow a performance by Coney Island Sideshows by the Seashore at 5:30 p.m, sponsored by the Traphagen Alumni Speakers Series and Yale Office of Student Affairs.
The following programs are free and open to the public.
Tuesday, January 13
5:30 p.m. Exhibition opening lecture
Ricky Jay, magician, collector, and historian
36 Edgewood Avenue
6:30 p.m. Reception
Featuring sideshow acts Johnny Fox and The Great Fredini, as well as a performance piece by Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz.
32 Edgewood Avenue Gallery
Tuesday, January 20
6:30 p.m. Lecture
Chris DAZE Ellis, Yale University Art Gallery artist-in-residence
1156 Chapel Street
Monday, January 26
5:30 p.m. Performance
Coney Island Sideshows by the Seashore
36 Edgewood Avenue
Sponsored by the Traphagen Alumni Speakers Series and Yale Office of Student Affairs.
6:30 p.m. Panel discussion
Performer Todd Robbins, side show impresario Dick Zigun YSD ’78, performer and director Jennifer Miller, and artists Riva Lehrer and Pamela Joseph.
36 Edgewood Avenue
Sponsored by the Hayden Fund for Arts and Ideas.
Tuesday, February 3, 12:30 p.m.
12:30 p.m. Lecture
Jane Dickson, artist
353 Crown Street
Friday, February 13, 12:30 p.m.
12:30 p.m. Lecture
Kathleen Maher, executive director and curator of the at the Barnum Museum
1156 Chapel Street
Thursday, February 19
1:30 p.m. Poynter Fellowship Lecture in Journalism
Mark Dery, cultural critic
1156 Chapel Street
Tuesday, March 3
6:30 p.m. Poynter Fellowship Lecture in Journalism 
James Taylor, historian and publisher of “Shocked and Amazed”
1156 Chapel Street
Date TBA
2 p.m. Poynter Fellowship Lecture in Journalism
Susan Meiselas, photographer
1156 Chapel Street
Curator's statement: “Side Show” is an exhibition investigating the intersection of fine art and the historical popular entertainment world of the carnival sideshow — in which the bodily display of the abnormal, human or animal, is the focus of each piece. Sideshows existed just beyond or to the side of the mainstream carnival or circus midway, offering a spectacle of oddity in a makeshift tent. It would feature human oddities, “freaks,” such as bearded women, the fat lady, the skeleton man, the conjoined, or “Siamese” twins, as well as dangerous-seeming acts like fire-handling and nasal nail-hammering. They were a fad of popular entertainment for the masses looking to forget their worries and cares and fears and problems, not really unlike the proliferation of reality television today, your Honey Boo-Boos and your various “Housewives,” or the afternoon talk shows of the eighties and nineties, like Sally Jesse and Geraldo.
The impetus for the show is the concurrent early 2015 exhibition at the Wadsworth Athaneum, “Coney Island: Visions of America’s Dreamland, 1861–2008,” spearheaded by former Yale University Art Gallery senior associate curator of American paintings and sculpture, Robin Jaffee Frank. Our show stands as a literal side-show, in a way, to that main show, which I consulted on and in which I have work included. Sideshows were a part of Coney Island, but they existed all over the country, and globe, travelling from town to town.
Artists seem to have always been interested in and entranced by the depiction of the “other,” the outsider, the oddity in nature, as can be evidenced by collections of curiosities assembled over centuries all over the world. Living curiosities have also been a part of these private and public museums, most popularly known in America thanks to local Connecticut hero, P.T. Barnum. Why do many artists feel an attraction to these images and objects, which are sometimes disturbing and depictions of unethical treatment of human beings, animals, and corpses? Is it because it is forbidden? Is there some empathetic response to being the outsider in society? Painter David Carbone says that he sees “archetypal images of otherness...[as] really images of our secret selves.”
Diane Arbus, one of the artists represented in the show via a loan of a suite of photographs from the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery, famously said, “Freaks was a thing I photographed a lot.... There’s a quality of legend about freaks. Like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle. Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.” (New Yorker, April 8, 2014) Arbus, being from a bit of an aristocratic Upper West Side furrier family, committed suicide after a bout with health problems and depression. Her demons were her trauma; was this why she was attracted to this underworld as her subjects?
In the show, some artists seem to celebrate this offbeat, taboo world, but others, like Arnold Mesches, Chris Daze, Roger Brown, Pamela Joseph and Toni Lee Sangastiano, use the conceits of sideshow signage and imagery to critique issues ranging from racism to misogyny and objectification of women to politics and a society obsessed with superficial values. Roger Brown, whose piece in the show proclaims “Motto for the Masses,” is quoted as saying, “As an artist your role is to sit back and observe objectively. If you become part of the freak show, you’re dead. You’re just another whore. The real job of an artist is to use what’s going on, not be used by it.” (Dialog magazine, 1987) His painting in the show uses the sideshow banner advertising style to make a political statement. In Arnold Mesches’ piece, “It’s a Circus 3,” he uses the carnivalesque to “recreate the sense of utter instability and sheer insanity” he finds in American society.
Those issues of race, ethnicity and gender will be considered, as well as the attitude towards those with disabilities. Although some acts in a traditional 10-in-1 sideshow (10 acts in one show for one ticket, that run continuously all day and evening long, so an audience member could walk in and out at any point, and still catch the whole show) are firebreathers, glass eaters and sword swallowers, defying nature, many were also people with some physical oddity that they were born into that made them fodder for display. It is argued that although some of these performers were, indeed, practically enslaved, many had self-agency, and the circus or sideshow gave them an opportunity to contribute to a family’s expenses; otherwise, many of them could not otherwise work for a living. 
The artist Riva Lehrer, in a lecture titled “Jarred,” talks about her experience as a person born with spina bifida confronting a dead baby in a jar at an anatomy museum, and realizing she was, in a way, quite possibly seeing herself, in another reality, put on display for gawkers, rather than buried and grieved over. Her immaculate drawing of performance artist Mat Fraser (who now stars in TV’s “American Horror Story: Freak Show”) is included in the show, and is a full-frontal male nude of a person born with a birth defect caused by his mother’s use of Thalidomide, an anti-nausea drug now banned from use. In his sideshow act, he pays tribute to “Sealo,” a performer who has the same deformity as him. He is a self-proclaimed disability activist, with a punk rock edge whose work transcended sideshow performance and acting to performance art.
Fraser is a good example in one body of the intersection of high and low culture, a theme this exhibition rests upon. I wanted to see what would happen if we took actual low-brow ephemera from the sideshow era – a feegee mermaid (a vernacular sculpture made from fish and monkey parts), a two-headed calf, sideshow banners meant to hang in a line as cheap and loud advertising, pitch cards or giant’s rings sold by the acts for a quarter her and there — and put these items up against unrefuted high art, such as paintings by the contemporary artists mentioned previously, as well as by Joe Coleman, Susan Meiselas, and Jane Dickson.
The show ends with a wink and a nod to an integral piece of the 10-in-1, the “blow-off.” For this, after the visitor views the main show, and then walks down the side gallery to view the historical sideshow banners, he or she will be confronted with a velvet curtain and a sign warning of the graphic nature of what you are about to see. It would be at this point that the emcee would collect another dollar from each of his marks to enter the last display. At Coney Island’s Sideshows by the Seashore, created by YSD ’78 alum, Dick Zigun, the blow-off is a cheap videotape of a woman giving birth. As a knowing nod to Zigun’s knowing nod, I chose to include the piece, “Birth Control,” by John Waters, a series of film stills of childbirth, as our own blow-off, or “ding,” in carny lingo.
Performer and collector Todd Robbins sums it up well, by saying, “The sideshow celebrates the human spirit’s ability to overcome any and all challenges, and the acts performed there prove that nothing is impossible.”
--Lisa Kereszi ’00 MFA, Yale School of Art critic and exhibition curator

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Curiously Anatomized Bodies of John Arderne: Guest Post by Michael Sappol, National Library of Medicine

The incomparable Michael Sappol--author of A Traffic of Dead Bodies, curator of Dream Anatomy, and historian at the National Library of Medicine--recently traveled to Sweden where he encountered the curious 15th century illuminated vellum scroll seen above. In the following post, Mike tells us more about this scroll, and its idiosyncratic anatomical visualizations:
I recently traveled to sunny Sweden to participate in an international conference on “The History of Medicine in Practice.” Along the way I got to visit some historical medical collections, talk to historians, curators, archivists, rare book specialists, publishers and librarians, and see amazing objects.

Today’s post is about one amazing object: De Arte Phisicali et de Cirurgica (The Art of the Physician and the Surgeon), a long vellum scroll — 542 cm (17 feet 9 inches) by 36 cm (1 foot 2 inches)! It dates from the year 1412 and resides today in the National Library of Sweden (in Swedish, Kungliga Biblioteket, “The Royal Library,” but since Swedes hold their egalitarian ideals very dear, usually translated as “The National Library”).

The manuscript is composed of six skins of vellum (that’s calf-skin!) sewn together. It features numerous painted color illustrations, along with a text written by John Arderne (1307-ca. 1390), a master surgeon who lived in Newark in the county of Nottingham, England. How it got to Sweden is a bit of a mystery, but experts believe that it traveled over the North Sea sometime in the 1420s, sent by King Henry IV of England to help his daughter, Princess Philippa. She had been married off to King Erik of Sweden in 1406 at the tender age of 12 (and died in 1430 at age 34 of a miscarriage).

The text (in Latin) contains standard medical wisdom of its time: advice on diagnosis and how to treat various conditions in the form of a discussion of cases, along with helpful recipes. (A knowledge of astrology helps with all of this.) The scroll is also supplied with a large number of good-natured, even comical, illustrations. Mostly they show the usual diseases and problems (dysentery, dropsy, colic, pleurisy, belching, insomnia, bellyache) and the usual therapeutic methods (bleeding, cautery, purging and plastering). There are also pictures of surgical instruments, poisonous animals (watch out for toads!) and typical problems of delivering a baby.

What has attracted the most attention from scholars, and even the public, are the scroll’s painted illustrations of the anatomized body, split open like a book or a butchered animal. These occupy the middle of the scroll, between the two main columns of text (which makes no comment on them), and are very rare for the period, really quite astonishing.

I know all this because of a fine book recently published on the Arderne scroll by Fri Tanke Förlag (Free Thought Press) and the Hagströmer Library, as part of their bibliographic publication series: John Arderne, De Arte Phisicali et de Cirurgia, trans., commentary, Torgny Svenberg and Peter Murray Jones; afterword, Eva LQ Sandgren (Stockholm: Fri Tanke Förlag – Hagströmer Biblioteket, 2014).

Michael Sappol
History of Medicine Division
National Library of Medicine
All images from De Arte Phisicali et de Cirurgica (The Art of the Physician and the Surgeon), courtesy of the National Library of Sweden