Dead bodies on display♦
Please note that Robert Zaller’s story, “Sunday in the morgue with ghouls: A few thoughts about gainful employment for the dead," contains several errors, that beg correction.
The exhibition which was on display at the Franklin Institute in 2005 was Gunther von Hagens’s Body Worlds, which is in no way affiliated with any copycat exhibitions, including, Bodies...The Exhibition. The Body Worlds exhibitions are presented by licensed physician and anatomist, Dr. Gunther von Hagens, who is also the inventor of Plastination. Dr. von Hagens has no affiliation with nor is he the promoter of any exhibition that does not bear his name.
Zaller also neglects to differentiate between Body Worlds, the original anatomical exhibition of donor bodies, and copycat exhibits that use unclaimed and found bodies from China. Dr. von Hagens’s Body Worlds exhibitions rely exclusively on donors who have officially declared in their lifetime that their bodies should be used to educate the general public through Plastination. There are over 9,200 donors to the Institute for Plastination; nearly 800 of them are Americans. Other exhibits have declared that they use unclaimed and found bodies from China.
Unfortunately, also contributes xenophobic remarks about Dr. von Hagens’s German nationality. He writes, "It did not reassure me that the show’s promoter is a German. Displaying corpses in amusing poses, with witty props and paraphernalia, put me in mind of Nazi lampshades made out of human skin."
Director of Development
Gunther von Hagens’s Body Worlds
Institute For Plastination
Granada Hills, Calif.
June 18, 2008
It’s about time somebody finally said it!
These plasticized corpse displays are appalling denegrations of what were once living beings.
How shallow, crass, and numb our society has become to accept this as entertainment or quasi-education.
If you have doubts that this civilization is going the way of the Romans, then here is your proof.
June 19, 2008
Robert— How long has it been since you had a vacation? The whole world is weird enough now that our generation has entered the Twilight Zone. If you can’t get away, please at least try a little calming Buddhist meditation.
Margaret Chew Barringer
June 18, 2008
Robert Zaller replies: I was happy to stand corrected over the spinoff franchise from Gunther von Hagens’s original exhibit. There is nothing less repugnant about it. On the subject of exploiting human remains, with or without their former owners’ consent, I remain a strict vegetarian.
Editor’s comment: Even for use by medical students (at least some of whom have admired Hagen’s dissections, which they say they can find nowhere else)?
The Barnes and its contrite neighbors
Re “Judge Ott’s latest ruling on the Barnes move,” by Robert Zaller—
While it has been said before, it bears repeating that we should remember the context of this case when we listen to the pleas of the Lower Merion community to retain the Barnes, and to respect Dr. Barnes’s wishes.
For decades the Lower Merion community was nothing but antagonistic toward the Barnes. Dr. Barnes was certainly a prescient collector, but between his eccentricities, to use a polite word, and the restrictions insisted upon by its neighbors, this remarkable museum has been virtually off-limits to the larger community. Friends of ours from Austria, despite flying several thousand miles and trying to reserve entry more than a week ahead, struck out in their effort to visit the museum.
Locating the museum on the Parkway will be a boon to the art world and to the region. We should not be held hostage by suddenly contrite NIMBY neighbors and literal adherence to instructions from the grave.
June 8, 2008
I was disappointed, but not surprised, that Robert Zalller offered nothing new in his two-part diatribe on the most recent ruling by Judge Stanley R. Ott. Consequently, his latest round of criticisms of the court-sanctioned relocation of the Barnes Collection was no more persuasive than his earlier ones.
Reducted to its essence, Professor Zaller’s critique consists of: reliance yet again on argumentum hominem, this time directed to Judge Ott (his court is deaf, dumb, and blind); continued dependence on a critically flawed assumption (physical location is the most important issue related to the future of the Barnes Collecction); and an unfortunately limited vision of the Foundation’s mission.
Zaller’s vision is best expressed in an earlier piece that appeared in this Review, under the characteristically lurid title, "Barnescam: Or, how to steal $20 billion." Referring, in the aftermath, to an Orphans Court ruling (presided over this time by Judge Michael Musmanno) that required public access to the Barnes collection in order to maintain tax-exempt status, Zaller wrote: "The collection has (as before) great cachet among art cognoscenti, but the general public had little awareness of or interest in it, and, after the initial flurry of publicity at its opening, the Barnes Foundation sank again into happy obscurity. Thus it was when I first visited it in the late 1980s. Admission was a dollar; one simply paid at the gate, walked in, and, virtually undisturbed, had one of the world’s great collections of art at one’s disposal."
This shockingly elitist attitude about the Barnes Collection would be guiding principle were Zaller’s "friends" of the Barnes and the Montgomery County politicians to gain control. The working public whose artistic and aesthetic education was at the center of Albert Barnes’s mission for his Foundation be damned!
Once again, in typically conspiratorial tones, Professor Zaller cites a $100 million state government set-aside for the relocation of the Barnes Collection and an alleged "buy out" of Lincoln University’s leadership interest in the Foundation. While I am interested in learning more from insiders, more knowledgeable than Zaller, about these transactions, I am pleased that a portion of my tax dollars will aid the relocation, if in fact there is truth in Zaller’s account. At long last, public funds for the arts rather than a sports complex or gambling casinos!
The relocation of the Barnes Collection represents a chance for securing the long-term future of the Foundation and for resurrecting what is most important in Albert Barnes’s vision for his incomparable collection. The art world owes an immense debt of gratitude to the Foundation’s current board, the several funding agencies who are providing financial support, and to Judge Ott for his rulings.
June 17, 2008
While it has all been said before, it bears repeating that Philadelphia need not squander its artistic heritage and commit legal and aesthetic murder in pursuit of the potentially fickle and elusive tourist dollar. There are ways to keep the Barnes Foundation in place and enhance its accessibility.
Much blame has been heaped upon the neighbors of the Barnes Foundation. Please let us not forget that much of the land that current neighbors reside upon once belonged to the Barnes Foundation. It was sold off piece by piece to pay debts over the years. Neighbors subsequently raised complaint because they were intentionally antagonized by the Foundation rather than approached as having legitimate negotiable concerns.
Whenever I visit the Foundation (I have never had to wait more than a week for a ticket), I am always amazed at how truly interested travelers manage to find their way to the Barnes Foundation regardless of its suburban location. Once I saw two Japanese ladies with parasols hop off a bus at City Line Avenue and walk the several blocks to their destination. With regular dedicated busing from the city (a 15-minute ride), those who are as nearly motivated as those Japanese ladies could quite easily visit those fabulous treasures.
Other cities have found a way to move visitors to what some might call inconveniently placed museums. The Getty Museum in Los Angeles transports visitors from buses to a tram up a hillside with an order and precision that is almost as marvelous to experience as the art treasures inside.
Philadelphia can solve this dilemma without moving the collection.
June 11, 2008
The Happiness Lecture
Re Steve Cohen’s review of The Happiness Lecture by Philadelphia Theatre Company—
Just want point out what should have been obvious: The "troupe of hooded figures" were "invisible" per
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