The International Museum of Surgical Science

August 17, 2009 · Print This Article

Tucked away in an elegant, chateau-style lakefront mansion facing Lake Michigan, The International Museum of Surgical Science is a sparkly gem of a niche museum that delivers a solid lesson on the history and development of surgical practices with just the right touches of gore to keep things interesting for us laypeople.

With its room-sized walk-in environments and galleries filled with big paintings of bloody surgical procedures, the IMSS is the kind of museum you can thoroughly enjoy even if you don’t read any of the wall texts. Not that I’m recommending you do this — you’ll learn a lot by delving into the didactic material that accompanies the Museum’s numerous exhibits. One of the most striking comes early on with the Museum’s recreation of an early American apothecary. Push a button and the pharmacist behind the window will tell you how he makes his pills and tinctures while sharing his plans to add a soda fountain to the shop to bring more people in; CVS, here we come!



Across from this there’s a tiny inset window that displays a tray of early dental tools.


On all four of the Museum’s floors one finds galleries devoted to the subjects of ophthalmology, nursing, the contributions of Japan to the history of surgical medicine, and countless more. Don’t miss the “Hall of Immortals,” which is lined with huge white marble statues (oh yes!) of medicine’s greats, including Imhotep, Hippocrates, Andreas Vesalius and Marie Curie, among others.

Very few of large scale medical paintings in the Museum’s collections are what you’d describe as “good paintings,” but who cares, really — they certainly get their point across. I’m pretty sure all of them were executed in the 20th century in a style that’s clearly enamored with the overblown realism of classical religious painting. There’s an entire gallery, called the Hall of Murals, whose paintings illustrate historical achievements in surgery and medicine. Many of these works are by Gregorio Calvi di Bergolo (1904-1994). In the Hall of Murals, we see depictions of a wartime amputation, early methods in the delivery of anesthesia, and a scene depicting an anatomy lesson taking place over a cadaver, among other subjects (click here to see more images of these paintings, which have also been reproduced as notecards–notecards!— available for purchase in the Museum’s gift shop or online).

Amputation, Gregorio Calvi di Bergolo (1904-1994). Copyright Museum of Surgical Science.

Amputation, Gregorio Calvi di Bergolo (1904-1994). Copyright Museum of Surgical Science.

However, my favorite paintings in the collection were done by Eduardo Ramirez, who exhibits a peculiar fascination with gynecological operations in his paintings of the first Caesarian section to be successfully performed in Latin America (check out how the woman in the top painting appears to be halfway sitting up, OBSERVING HER OWN PROCEDURE!!), and an early ovariectomy, for example.



In the end, however, it’s the inherent strangeness of the objects that are on display — many of them tools that once were indispensable but are now just relics of outdated science — that propels the curious viewer from room to room.

Display of Prosthetic Legs, Museum of Surgical Science

Prosthetic Leg Display



For me, one of the most chilling exhibits displays a technology from the not too distant past: the iron lung. Funny, but I never actually knew what an iron lung looked like until I saw this. The display is accompanied by some truly heartbreaking photographs of the polio-stricken kids who had to inhabit these contraptions, including two who are holding hands to comfort one another. Praise Be Jonas Salk.

Iron Lung used by Polio victims

Iron Lung

I also like the Museum’s thoughtfully-curated Anatomy in the Gallery program, which features temporary exhibitions highlighting intersections of contemporary art and medicine. Right now, the program features two exhibitions that work marvelously alongside one another:  Redefining the Medical Artist, a survey of work by students at UIC’s Biomedical Visualization Program (what used to be called ‘medical illustration’), and “Pareidolia,” an exhibition of ink spill drawings by Chicago artist Vesna Jovonovic (which I reviewed for New City this week, it should be online in a day or so).

Earlier this year ThreeWalls held its annual fundraiser at the IMSS, a vampire-themed, interactive production created by Death by Design for which the Museum’s elegant and inherently creepy environs provided the perfect setting.  But can you imagine having your wedding there?


Well in fact, many people can and did, and judging by these pictures, it’s actually a pretty romantic place to tie the knot.

The International Museum of Surgical Science is located at 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive. Click here for hours and directions.

The Disturbing Truth about Obama’s “Death Panels”

August 16, 2009 · Print This Article

Further on the subject of health care reform…if you haven’t already seen this, you must check out Fantastic, comprehensive experiment in online journalism. And not at all what it seems. (Via Snarkmarket).

Arts Organizations Call on Congress to Recognize Artists in Health Care Debate

August 15, 2009 · Print This Article

Americans for the Arts and a coalition of 20 national arts organizations are calling on Congress to fully recognize the rights of individual artists and arts groups in the health care reform debate. On August 13th, they issued the following statement in support of comprehensive healthcare reform:

“As national arts service organizations representing thousands of nonprofit arts organizations at the state and local level as well as serving thousands of individual artists across the country, we call on Congress to pass a health care reform bill. The current economic crisis has affected the cultural sector as dramatically as it has the millions of unemployed and uninsured Americans. Like others who have fallen through the cracks of the current system, many in the cultural workforce work independently or operate in nontraditional employment relationships, leaving them locked out of group healthcare coverage options.

Additionally, soaring health care costs are consuming the ever decreasing budgets of nonprofit arts organizations hit hard by today’s economic recession. The time for reform that delivers high quality and affordable health care for businesses and individuals is now. We call on Congress to pass:

*A health care reform bill that will create a public health insurance option for individual artists, especially the uninsured, and create better choices for affordable access to universal health coverage without being denied because of pre-existing conditions.

*A health care reform bill that will help financially-strapped nonprofit arts organization reduce the skyrocketing health insurance costs to cover their employees without cuts to existing benefits and staff while the economy recovers. These new cost-savings could also enable nonprofit arts organizations to produce and present more programs to serve their communities.

*A health care reform bill that will enable smaller nonprofit and unincorporated arts groups to afford to cover part and full-time employees for the first time.

*A health care reform bill that will support arts in healthcare programs, which have shown to be effective methods of prevention and patient care.

There is little time to waste as a broken system continues to leave far too many behind and adds trillions to our national debt. Millions of cultural workers stand ready to assist our leaders with solutions that protect all Americans and its creative sector with guaranteed universal insurance coverage deserving of the wealthiest nation in the world.”

Makes sense. Except, perhaps, for that last bullet point, which departs from the economic issues surrounding artists, art professionals and health care to suggest that art itself should be considered part of the health care “cure.” That, as the L.A. Times’ Christopher Knight observed in an editorial written last week, is where the Coalition’s statement gets more than a little iffy.

While praising most of the Coalition’s statement, Knight rightly points out that its call for more arts in healthcare programs is mostly hooey (my words there, not Knight’s). In an August 13th editorial, he questions the degree of art’s efficacy when it comes to prevention and patient care, noting that

“Clinical art therapy might be a perfectly legitimate, even beneficial medical specialty. But whatever the case, when I want advice about a medical procedure, I’d rather ask my doctor than a national coalition of arts organizations.”

By trying to make art part of the healthcare solution, Knight argues, the group replicates “the therapeutic fallacy that plagues our sentimentalized culture” — in other words, the old bromide that “art is good for you.” Better swallow! What’s more, it may make it even easier for those who oppose health care reform to dismiss the Coalition’s overall point (for one, that artists are part of a larger group of working people who for various reasons don’t have adequate access to health care) and focus instead on their push to add money for art in healthcare programs — you can imagine the glee with which some folks would tear into that one.

It’s a small point, to be sure, but as we’ve seen those little issues have a way of getting blown out of proportion, obscuring the finer points of critical debates like this one.

Read Knight’s editorial in full here.

Laura Harper Leaves Chicago Artists Coalition

August 15, 2009 · Print This Article

The Chicago Reader reports that Laura Harper, executive director of the Chicago Artists Coalition, has resigned “for personal reasons” after only eight months at the post. Her last day had been July 31st. Read more in Deanna Isaacs’ Reader story here.

Fridays Twitter Roundup

August 14, 2009 · Print This Article


On this weeks roundup I discovered the awesome site Pruned, Trevor Paglen made a t-shirt, and the Whitney joins the growing list of museums that are laying off staff. Have a good weekend everyone.

RT : artnetdotcom Whitney Museum has “quietly laid off 4% of its staff,” eight full- and part-time employees.

The Bike Film Festival began yesterday. Check out what’s going on including their show at the MCA Warehouse tonight.

Watching a trailer Doug Pray’s Art & Copy

Former BAS guest Trevor Paglen teams up with Freshjive for black-ops tees (via @iteeth)

@pruned has two interesting proposals for an aquatics complex for the Chicago 2016 Summer Olympic Bid.

RT @cmonstah Wonderful: Jon Rafman discusses the photography of Google Street Views in an insightful essay on artfagcity

Pruned has a nice collection of Soil maps of Africa.

Checking out a cool proposal for a new civic plaza in Chicago. It looks a little too comfortable for public sculpture.

Ben van Berkel’s Burnham Plan Centennial Pavilion will close this week in Millennium Park for some much needed tlc.

Dan Clowes interviewed by Mike Sacks (via @boingboing)

DORYU 2-16 pistol camera might be the most bad ass camera ever. Like a camera straight out of a blaxploitation film.

Started looking around It’s Nice That’s website and found a series of artist talks.