We went yesterday to see the Body Worlds exhibit in a science museum in San Jose, to which I'd been, weirdly enough, when I was at GDC in 2004. Not really that good a museum. The show was fairly neat though, and I was unhappy as I always am when things like this don't allow photography. I did a little sketching, but it was dark, and the best parts were the material qualities and light behavior, which are not best captured by me with a pencil.
I had a hard time figuring out the aim of the exhibit; it had scientific trappings, with a coating of art-gallery, but a touchy-feely style of writing with an inflection of religion at times. Chmmr made the trenchant observation that it was a concession to popularity; being cold and scientific about something this close to home could alienate essentially everyone, so it's probably a good idea to hit all the 'transcendent' notes you can. They also made sure to include some health messages, which were variably successful.
I didn't really find the exhibition successful as art; the pieces were often repetitive and even kind of trite (how many figures playing sports does one require?). A couple of them worked, though, like the trifurcated diver, the exploded man
(doesn't the creator look like Joseph Beuys?), and even 'Angel' (a female figure with her back muscles pulled upward to vaguely evoke wings, and a blonde hair-do, which I thought was completely meritless and unfortunate until I noticed that the plexiglass case she was in had a perfectly circular hole cut in the top for her right hand to emerge from, very slightly. That made it work a lot better, and I have no idea if it were intentional). We didn't get to see the rider
, which is a shame. Shaking up the human proportional scheme would have been welcome. (Link to the small photoset
of a press person here, btw.)
I even found the lighting scheme better from the backs of the figures than from the front; the translucency of the materials was brought out, which I thought essential. Visitors were allowed to go around to the backs of things, but they didn't always do so.
An interesting thing was that people seemed very quick to assure one another that it wasn't really gross. They mostly seemed fascinated and a little weirded out, which I suppose points to success on the part of the exhibit. The most common conversational topic I overheard was the surgical procedures/medical problems of friends and relatives, and their experiences with medicine in general: 'that's what Joe had to have done,' 'remember when I had that knee thing? That's where that was.' This is the way people relate to anatomy, I gather, in the medical sense. (This is interesting to me because I relate to anatomy in more the motion and topological senses.)
A lot of people brought their school-age children, so they must have thought the educational value (variable, I'm sure) outweighed the chances of crippling nightmares. I respect the ability to get something like this touring in the US, really. It's something of a coup all by itself. I mean, they had t-shirts with photos of a couple of the cadavers on 'em. I so would have bought some in high school.