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Extraordinary Bodies: Photographs from the Mütter Museum

November 9 - December 15, 2006

Heart, 1994 - Olivia Parker

Photographers and medicine are no strangers. The visual representation of anatomy and pathology as viewed by the camera dates back to the early history of photography when doctors and scientists created anatomical atlases and documented disease and trauma. Photographs also allowed physicians to keep exact visual records of cases long after patients died.

The historical bond between photographers and medicine carries forward to the present day with Extraordinary Bodies: Photographs from the Mütter Museum, an exhibition that represents more than a decade of work by contemporary photographers. For some, the medical manipulation of the body—an act that amounts to the isolation of a part from the whole—becomes a visual metaphor for the human condition. Other artists juxtapose real or artificial body parts and the public and private spaces of the museum itself.

Human Head
Human Head Prepared by Batson, 2000
- Rosamond Purcell

The exhibition includes images from the museum’s renowned historical photography collection alongside contemporary images that extend the boundaries of traditional photographic subject matter. These works find beauty not in conventional forms, but in internal marvels and the enigma of those whose bodies—deformed, broken and disfigured—have suffered physical abnormality, trauma, or destructive disease.

The Mütter Museum, one of the last medical museums from the nineteenth century, comprises a sublime anatomical and pathological collection that originated with Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter, a professor of surgery who collected unique specimens and models for teaching purposes. Under the care of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, to which Dr. Mütter offered his collection in 1856, the Mütter Museum has grown and survived where others did not. According to Malcolm Jones, the collection “teaches how indelibly strange life can be, how unpredictable and various. The photographs, sometimes ghastly, sometimes heartbreaking, are mysterious and mesmerizing, and [the images] revise and enlarge our idea of what it is to be human.”

Prosthetic Leg in Hallway
Prosthetic Leg in Hallway, 2000
Max Aguilera-Hellweg

Artists in the exhibition

Curated by Laura Lindgren, the exhibition is organized by Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibitions (CATE), Los Angeles, California.