Milwaukee County Museum

Milwaukee – A Day At The County Museum

Last Sunday I finally had the opportunity to go see the Bodyworlds exhibit at the Milwaukee County Museum. I decided to take several of my office staff from my Milwaukee company. It’s always good to get everyone out of the office and have a little fun now and then. I had been regretting my decision to pass it up a few years back when it was at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago – the lines were exceedingly long there. The exhibition running in Milwaukee WI is Bodyworlds 1. It is my understanding that there are now three Bodyworlds exhibitions touring worldwide, with a fourth to be added starting in Europe in the future.
Milwaukee County Museum

Milwaukee WI Exhibits Bodyworlds at County Museum

Bodyworlds is an exhibition of the work of Gunther von Hagens, a German anatomist that invented the technique of plastination, which is used to preserve tissue. Rather than displaying the human body as one would see it at a funeral, the plastination process apparently allows the display of different organs, muscles, etc. The effect is a bunch of “skinned humans” sliced open to allow the viewing of their internal workings. The bodies are posed and dissected in different ways to display different tissue types.

To the question I posed at the start of the blog: was the display science, or was it art?

I went to the exhibition thinking that I was seeing science. There was a great wealth of information about the inner workings of the human body displayed along with the plastinated bodies. But alongside the scientific explanations were philosophical quotes about the nature of mankind, of life and of death. As I moved further through the exhibition I began to see less of the science aspect of the contorted bodies and more of the art. The two dancers, one perched elegantly for all eternity…the man locked forever in an unending chess game. That’s art…isn’t it?

Interestingly, the observations I heard the most from people around me were not commentaries on the gruesome nature of the displays, as I had expected. Rather, many people seemed fascinated by the displays exhibiting illness – the turned spine or the smoker’s lungs. That in itself was an interesting commentary on human nature.

In any event, the exhibit was an interesting one and although it was uncomfortably crowded I did enjoy what I saw. Rather than leaving me with questions about the frailty of life and the nature of the soul it left me with questions about the boundary between science and art and whether there necessarily must be such a boundary. I’ve been thinking that over for the past few days, and that alone was worth the price of admission.