This fall, Carnegie Museums celebrates and explores the science and art of the body and our sometimes conflicted relationship with it.
By Betsy Momich
Michelangelo celebrated the body in his art and his words: “What spirit is so empty and blind that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed?” English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy took another view as he lamented its inevitable and irrevocable decline from aging: “Why should a man's mind have been thrown into such close, sad, sensational, inexplicable relations with such a precarious object as his body?”
Paul Thek, Warrior's Arm, 1966-1967, The Henry L. Hillman Fund, Mr. and Mrs. James H. Rich Fund, Carnegie Mellon Art Gallery Fund, and A. W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund
It’s all a matter of perspective, you might say, and that’s just the point of Carnegie Museums’ slate of fall exhibitions and special programs that in their own unique yet connected way explore the concept of the body. Three exhibitions—all opening in October—and related programming will explore the concept of the body: what we know of it, how we come to know and understand ourselves, each other, and how it’s deployed and depicted in art. The body and its mechanics at Carnegie Science Center; the body activating art at Carnegie Museum of Art; body perceptions at The Andy Warhol Museum; and at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, body evolution.
Scientists will no doubt always explore outer space, the ocean floor, and everything in between for new forms of life. But will they ever discover anything quite as wondrous in its design and inner workings as the human body? Probably not.
Carnegie Science Center wants to celebrate and demystify the human body. Opening on October 15, the Science Center’s new permanent exhibition, BodyWorks, pays homage to its wonders by asking some simple questions: What makes me “me”? and How does my body work? Visitors will find some fascinating answers by exploring the physiology, biology, and engineering of the human body—from cells to tissues to organs to internal systems. And they’ll do it by way of a host of interactive, hands-on exhibits. Visitors can pull 30 feet of rope out of a body to see how long their intestines are, try their hand at (simulated!) endoscopic surgery, or perfect their dance moves in front of the “Skeleton Mirror” and see how a video ‘x-ray’ shows their bones moving in time to their actions.
Partnering with the Science Center is Allegheny Health Network and its medical professionals, who not only acted as advisors for the exhibition but will be frequent guest speakers in BodyWorks. As part of the exhibition’s opening weekend, October 15 and 16, visitors will be treated to the Science Center’s new traveling science show, Journey through the Human Body: An Anatomy Adventure—a virtual voyage through the blood stream courtesy of a miniature robotic probe. The show will be traveling to schools throughout southwestern Pennsylvania and beyond this fall semester, taking kids on a virtual body trek to the human heart, lungs, stomach, kidneys, skeletal muscles, eyes, and even the brain.
ANDY WARHOL: MY PERFECT BODY
Opening October 21, it’s the first comprehensive look at Andy Warhol’s love-hate relationship with the body. Andy Warhol: My Perfect Body taps The Warhol’s permanent collection and some rarely traveled loans to explore Warhol’s body-related work—from student drawings to late paintings of the 1980s. It also factors in the Pop-art icon’s personal history, including his struggles with his own physical appearance.
In creating a host of My Perfect Body programming, The Warhol has something for just about everyone, including: a class on drawing the nude model for the 21+ crowd on November 17; a December 9 teen sketch party/pizza party where teens will be encouraged to celebrate the imperfect and unusual through drawing and further discussion; a Body Beats Dance Party featuring Prince Rama on December 16; a December 8 reading by Douglas Crimp from his 2016 memoir Before Pictures, which tells the story of Crimp’s life as a young gay man and art critic in New York City during the late 1960s through to the turbulent ’70s; and a January 20 lecture by art historian James Elkins, author of Pictures of the Body: Pain and Metamorphosis.
And in what’s sure to be a lively conversation, poet and Warhol friend/lover John Giorno will be joined by The Warhol’s Associate Curator of Art (and Curator of My Perfect Body) Jessica Beck and Carnegie Museum of Art’s Richard Armstrong Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Eric Crosby. Their talk will be preceded by a showing of Jack Smith’s avant-garde film, Flaming Creatures (1963), which was controversial in its day for how it played with gender and sexual norms.
HÉLIO OITICICA: TO ORGANIZE DELIRIUM
Hélio Oiticica was a groundbreaking Brazilian artist of the 1960s and ’70s whose immersive art installations and wearable Parangolés (or capes) depended on bodily engagement. They transformed the spectator into an active participant, just as they dissolved the age-old divide between art and life.
Opening October 1 at Carnegie Museum of Art, Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium is the first comprehensive U.S. retrospective of this influential Brazilian artist, co-organized by Carnegie Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and The Art Institute of Chicago (see page 12). Of the many fascinating things we learn about Oiticica is that he was the son of an entomologist—and, as such, evolution, taxonomy, and morphology played a big part in his reclassification of art.
Irene Small, who teaches modern and contemporary art and criticism at Princeton University, recently published Hélio Oiticica: Folding the Frame, and on December 10 she’ll be joined by Carnegie Museum of Art curators and Carnegie Museum of Natural History scientists for a special program, Morphology in the Studio. They’ll come together to uncover a common philosophical ground between natural history and contemporary art in the work of Oiticica.