February 3, 2004

Gunther von Hagens, leaches the water out of human corpses, injects them with plastic, and arranges the various body parts into poses, often showing the figure holding one of its own organs. One British art journal reported:
"Reclining Woman in the 8th Month of Pregnancy", is, perhaps the most arresting. She lies in a classic pose of the artistic nude with womb opened to reveal an almost fully mature foetus; it could be tasteless and offensive, but in fact achieves a poignancy that is more than enough to justify the entire exhibition.

The exhibition of these reconfigured corpses is wildly popular, the NYT reports today: 14 million people have paid $15 each to see it. Is it wrong for people to be fascinated by these things? Von Hagens claims an artistic interest in anatomy and cites Leonardo da Vinci. Not surprisingly, many people are offended, but as long as he was using the bodies of willing donors, it seemed nothing could be done to stop him. But the immense profitability of the exhibit has created “a ravenous appetite for fresh cadavers,” and now there are accusations that he’s buying corpses of executed Chinese prisoners.
At first, Dr. von Hagens said, he worried that the dispute might dent attendance. "Some people might say, 'That's a scandal — I don't want to support a scandal,' " he said. "But in the long run, it won't matter."

On a recent afternoon, visitors seemed so distracted by the cadavers — sliced, diced, some clutching their internal organs in their hands — that no one bothered to ask where the bodies came from.

UPDATE: Here's another article on the controversy, which The Drudge Report is covering. And let me add the word "plastination," von Hagens's name for the process, in a blatant attempt at drawing Googlers.

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