BROOKLYN, NY—This up-and-coming Brooklyn institution has hit the jackpot with its latest exhibit, titled “House of Wax,” for which a well-attended opening night party was held on a late October Friday night at their Third Avenue establishment in the borough’s Park Slope section. Custom craftsman and bone collector Ryan Matthew Cohn served as curator of the exhibition which featured a collection of wax figures which he was fortunate enough to obtain from a long-defunct German “panopticum,” actually a 19th century museum of sorts. He spoke at length about the provenance and historical significance of his acquisition. He led the crowd of attendees in a champagne toast to kick things off. VIPs were also treated to cocktails provided courtesy of Hendricks Gin.
In the 19th century and early 20th century, before the advent of cinema and related media, entertainment-seekers and those in pursuit of knowledge outside their limited scope used to pay to attend waxwork venues where they could view highly realistic effigies representing everything about which they harbored morbid curiosity disguised as academic interest. This particular selection represents the assemblage from “Castan’s Panopticum,” which was in business in Berlin from 1869-1922 and contains life-sized, anatomical abnormalities (with an emphasis on genitalia and private parts), exaggerated caricature busts of human ethnic examples, the death masks of famous historical figures (Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm I, Mary Queen of Scots, et al.), a few versions of the pregnant uterus with various obstetrical predicaments, as well as internal and external disease processes and more. Think Madame Tussauds crossed with the Mutter Museum.
Foremost, and occupying the center of the exhibition room, are a couple of examples of what is termed “Anatomical Venus”—beautifully idealized, complete human female figures with their innards revealed, all lovingly rendered in wax sculpture. Professor Rebecca Messberger informed the listeners about the place of women, not just as the subjects of anatomical wax sculpture, but she also referred to the 18th century Italian sculptor, Anna Morandi, known as the “Lady Anatomist,” who was a supreme artist in this medium.
This exhibit represent the fifth such setup at this fledgling Morbid Anatomy Museum since its opening last June, each of which has been more elaborate, more organized and more fascinating than the one before it. By presenting “House of Wax,” the Museum has captured the very essence of what the institution is all about, its “core” mission, which from this perspective appears to be education, entertainment and bemusement of an audience of gutsy, curious and unconventional museum-goers.