Thursday, October 8, 2009

The International Museum of Surgical Science

   This past weekend I visited the International Museum of Surgical Science.  The Museum was hosting two medical illustration shows: Vesna Jovanovic’s Pareidolia, drawings and collages that struck an interesting chord between reality and make believe, and Redefining the Medical Artist: Biomedical Visualizations at UIC, straight-forward, (mostly) computer-generated, and medical diagrams.  Although the work in both shows was okay, the overall presentation of the work was horrible.  As a matter of fact, the quality of presentation in the entire museum was exceptionally bad.  The building itself is stunning and the collection is incredible, but the place as a whole is really, pretty darn jank-jank.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve always been a snob, a facet of my character that, I think, comes with being observant and ridden with jealousy.  I’m always looking for slip-ups, especially in artwork and presentation of artwork, so I approached the shows and the museum as a whole with a judgmental eye, but that being said, I think casual viewers would be just as bothered by the state of the galleries an institution as I was.  Small things like curled, yellowed labels, pamphlets and gum wrappers that had been dropped into display cases and not promptly removed, fallen description boards and exhibits being used as storage space (yes) are things that could easily be fixed but remain in disrepair and it’s disappointing to see that no one is doing anything about it.   The galleries looked the worst out of any of the rooms in the museum.  There were chair rails dividing the walls, the top portion covered with light blue polyester fabric, which was freckled with nail holes and sagged and billowed around the work.  Redefining the Medical Artist looked like a middle school art presentation, its pieces mounted in black mat board frames and pinned haphazardly to the baggy fabric.  A time-based collection was being shown on a TV in front of a window in the room.  The window was covered in a big piece of black cloth and on the cabinet where the TV sat, the guide to the collection (we’re talking a Times-New-Roman-on-copy-paper sorta deal) was taped.  It was so shidassed.*  Rawrrrrg.  I felt terrible for the artists in the show.  The whole time I was in the gallery, my face was all screwed up in disgust.  I was so distracted by the shitty presentation that I could barely focus on the work itself.  Good thing I got a BEAUTIFUL black and white Xeroxed pamphlet to pour over later at home!!! 

   I suppose I shouldn’t place all of my blame on the Museum.  After all, I’m sure the artists came up with their own sexy mat board frames and hung their own work.  I think the idea of the artists misusing the opportunity to show in a museum pisses me off more than the idea of a museum being too poor or too lazy to pay for a simple renovation (like, painting a wall white).  The show was comprised of work by students, faculty and staff.  Shouldn’t the seasoned faculty and staff  have known how to install a show and present artwork in a professional-looking manner?  A bit of advice I got from my Research Studio II  professor, Adam Scott, keeps coming to mind as I think about these shows, “the presentation of the work is just as important as the work itself.”  So true.

  Even though the gallery that hosted Pareidolia was just as crappy-looking (she’d custom-framed her pieces, though, which looked better than the mat board frames) as the one that held the UIC show, Jovanovic’s work was a lot more interesting. Her marriage of fact with the absurd was much more engaging than the other (sometimes technically-mediocre) show.  I appreciated her use of materials and emphasis on scale.

   Honestly, I felt so much more connected with the museum than with the art shows, the building especially.  According to a wall tag, “The Museum occupies a four-story mansion designed in 1910 by famous Chicago architect Howard Van Doren Shaw for the Eleanor Countiss Robinson family.  The house’s classical symmetry was derived from Le Petit Trianon on the Grounds of Versailles. The many little rooms and strange little nooks and passages made it feel like a home.  Wandering past display cases full of gall stones and artificial limbs, I couldn’t help but wonder what the people were like that used to live there.   I wondered where the servants stayed and what sort of events had been held there.  I wondered if children used to play where the Iron Lung is now displayed.  I wondered if anyone is still alive who had visited the building when it was still a home.  The whole museum is shrouded in mystery- lots of locked doors and screens blocking hallways.   I went on a rainy Saturday, but it was colder inside.  I felt very tense wandering through the exhibits.  Seeing pictures of kids with Rickets and Polio is always a strange experience, but seeing them in such an old, dimly-lit quiet place made them even more disturbing.

   To summarize:

-I am a nit picky snob.

-The International Museum of Science and Industry needs to be a bit more attentive to their curatorial and presentational decisions.

-Artists should take as much responsibility as possible for and care about the presentation of their work.

-I am happy to live in this medical era.

-I’m so, so glad there are people in this world that are medical practitioners, who are gifted enough to find cures, develop more efficient equipment and help their patients get better.

- You should visit this weirdo museum.


*From the Jane Phrasebook: shitass or shitassed (alternate spelling: shidass)

From the Gorman family. Created by Granny Wanda and popularized by Sammy and Anna. The noun shitass refers to a person who is lazy,

irresponsible, unprofessional, or half-assed. A derogatory but not

necessarily cruel term. A shitass can be a rude or mean person, but this is not an integral part of the meaning. A shitass often is quite benign, and moreover they are always more or less intelligent, they just don’t put forth much effort. The adjective form “shitassed” can also be used to describe a lack of motivation, or something that is poorly done. The Dude from The Big Lebowski is an example of a benign shitass; Sammy’s alter ego Dougie is a more mean-spirited shitass.

“I was feeling sort of shitassed today, so I didn’t brush my hair and just went to work in sweatpants.”

“You re-gifted that stupid Doonesbury oven mitt? Man, that is so shitassed.”

“Leo is such a shitass – he’s thirty-five and he still lives with his parents.” 

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