and thus began my morbid fascination
July 1, 2014 5:24 AM   Subscribe

The Morbid Anatomy Museum, a treasure trove of pathological and funereal curiosities, antique medical models, and anatomical art pledged to "exploring the intersections of death, beauty, and that which falls between the cracks," has opened its doors to the public in Gowanus, Brooklyn.

(NOTE: Most of these links include variably graphic museum-quality displays of dead things, including tons of bones, death masks, pathological waxworks, taxidermy, wet and dry specimens, and other creepy/weird stuff. Some of it is NSFW. If collections like Body Worlds and the Mütter Museum are too much for you, you should click away. Here, check out this puppy instead!)

In 2007, artist Joanna Ebenstein created Morbid Anatomy (previously), a website dedicated to "surveying the interstices of art and medicine, death and culture." By 2008, Ebenstein's website had evolved from a passel of pixels into a tangible collection: The Morbid Anatomy Library, which ultimately grew to comprise over 2,000 trinkets, tomes, artifacts, photographs, and peculiarities as a project-in-residence of Proteus Gowanus.

Over the next few years, the Morbid Anatomy empire continued to expand: First came Morbid Anatomy Presents, a series of illustrated talks from academics and autodidacts on topics ranging from the Victorian fear of premature burial and existential mathematics to DIY wet specimen preservation and insect shadowboxes. Next up was Morbid Anatomy Art Academy, a convocation of classes designed to imbue local citizens with arcane knowledge as well as fine art instruction. MAAA also offers students the opportunity to take a hands-on approach to taxidermy, as its consistently sold-out workshops tutor participants in the age-old practice of animal preservation from Anthropomorphic Mouse to Traditionally Wrapped Quail.

After a half-dozen years at Proteus and a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign that led to the April 2014 publication of a 500-page, full-color hardbound book titled The Morbid Anatomy Anthology, it was clear that the Morbid Anatomy Library had begun to outgrow its 300-square-foot canal-side home. To that end, a new campaign was created, and in just over a month, 1,557 supporters funded the proposed expansion and then some.

Now occupying three stories on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 7th Street, the new and improved Morbid Anatomy Museum features 4,200 square feet of permanent and traveling exhibitions, a cafe, a 2,500 volume reference library, a lecture hall, and a gift shop. Its first public exhibition was co-curated by Ebenstein and Evan Michelson, co-owner of Manhattan's Obscura Antiques, star of the Science Channel's reality/documentary show Oddities, and Morbid Anatomy Library's current Scholar-in-Residence. Titled "The Art of Mourning," the exhibition runs through Thursday, December 4.

Official sites: Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Flickr | YouTube

[further reading]
  • Atlas Obscura: Morbid Anatomy Library

  • ArtNet: New Morbid Anatomy Museum Opens in Brooklyn (Where Else?)

  • Canadian Medical Association Journal: Joanna Ebenstein's morbid obsession

  • Gothamist: 56 Freaky Photos From Inside Brooklyn's Morbid Anatomy Museum

  • New York Times: The Dark Side Gets Its Due

  • United Academics Journal of Social Sciences: Q & A with Joanna Ebenstein, Founder of the Morbid Anatomy Library and Museum
  • posted by divined by radio (17 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
    *Applause, applause!* Thanks, divined by radio -- this is a treasure trove.
    posted by MonkeyToes at 5:37 AM on July 1, 2014

    Oh man, mrs ozzy is gonna plotz. The Mütter is one of her favorite places. Maybe I'll take her here for our anniversary. Romantic, no?
    posted by uncleozzy at 5:43 AM on July 1, 2014

    Excellent post! Thanks!
    posted by Renoroc at 5:45 AM on July 1, 2014

    This is good, thanks for posting this!
    posted by carter at 6:09 AM on July 1, 2014

    So excited by this! I've been following this for a while now, and I really, really want to make it up there. The Art of Mourning looks really fascinating, honestly. I really don't know why I didn't end up doing this as a historian, to be honest, given my background.
    posted by strixus at 6:35 AM on July 1, 2014

    What a spectacular post! It's late here in Oz and I have to go to bed, but I have the day off work tomorrow, and you'd better believe that I will devour every link. Thank you so much, divined by radio. I clicked through and saw a few pics from the museum and thought, "it is too late for me to go down this rabbit hole tonight, dammit - it'll have to wait until tomorrow".

    (Oh, the bat! My stepdad grew up in an almost-abandoned goldrush town in central NSW, and there is the most gorgeous old house there. I used to call it the Pollyanna house when I was a kid, because I could just picture Hayley Mills on the upper balcony rejoicing in whatever she chose to be glad about at the time. The house was left to the National Trust, and it is exactly how it was when the last occupant died... half-finished needlework on the bedroom chair, newspaper and magazine clippings pasted to the walls as art, kitchenware laid out ready to prepare a meal.

    Up one of the many steep narrow staircases, an Australian Army coat hangs on the wall, where it was left when the last soldier in the family took it off for the last time.

    The tour guide quietly points out the baby bat clinging to the lapel of the coat. Very dead... far older than I or anyone else on the tour. I think of that baby bat often.)
    posted by malibustacey9999 at 6:43 AM on July 1, 2014

    divined by radio,

    DUDE! It is not Friday. It's not even Thursday.

    How am I supposed to get any work done?

    Also, as a former neighbor to the Gowanus Canal, I cannot think of a more fitting location for this museum
    posted by arkham_inmate_0801 at 6:50 AM on July 1, 2014

    I've never been to this place, but it sounds very much like the excellent Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, which I absolutely recommend that anyone passing through Philly check out. In fact, I tell people that if they have time for one museum in Philadelphia, they should go to the Mutter.
    posted by 256 at 6:54 AM on July 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

    Oops! The Mutter Museum is mentioned right in the post! I control-Fed for "Mutter" but divined by radio was diligent enough to use the Umlaut.

    I'll be quietly perusing these links now.
    posted by 256 at 6:55 AM on July 1, 2014

    Cool post! I supported the Kickstarter, and I'm really happy they're getting so much attention now. I hope to visit in person if I'm in New York.
    posted by Nibbly Fang at 7:01 AM on July 1, 2014

    Thanks for this divined by radio! I am looking forward to digging through the links at the end of my day!
    posted by Sophie1 at 7:22 AM on July 1, 2014

    Does anyone know the cost of admission?
    posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:28 AM on July 1, 2014

    Admission is $10.

    You can also purchase a membership for $50, which entitles you to unlimited free visits to the museum and library for one year and a 10% discount at the gift shop!
    posted by divined by radio at 7:34 AM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

    One of my friends is deeply involved in this! Great post!
    posted by Navelgazer at 8:00 AM on July 1, 2014

    I walk by the museum on a regular basis. A few weeks before it opened, a man who works at the auto repair shop next door was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. The family set up a shrine outside with pictures and votive candles, practically in front of the museum. I saw them gathered around it one time when I was walking past, and I think it's still there. I know it's just a coincidence, but I thought the juxtaposition didn't reflect very well on the museum. The museum's About Us page says that it's "dedicated to the celebration and exhibition of artifacts, histories and ideas which fall between the cracks of high and low culture, death and beauty, and disciplinary divides," which is fine, but it's a little insensitive to be openly celebrating death when there is a family facing the real thing so close by. It also speaks to the growing divide in the neighborhood, which is rapidly gentrifying. The first Whole Foods in Brooklyn just opened up a few blocks from the museum. The people I tend to see in the museum appear largely young, white, and affluent, while the man who was killed and his family are Hispanic. It appears disrespectful. Again, I know it wasn't the museum's fault, but it definitely touches some nerves.
    posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 8:16 AM on July 1, 2014

    Thanks, divined by radio! I don't know how I overlooked that. Hah.
    posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:30 AM on July 1, 2014

    Why do they sometimes say "exploring the intersections" and sometimes "surveying the interstices"? Those phrases mean pretty different things. Are they open July 4th?
    posted by ChuckRamone at 12:04 PM on July 1, 2014

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