Exhibit highlights ‘beauty under the skin’
SUMMIT COUNTY ” Move over, C.S.I. Fictional representations of human anatomy seen on the top-rated television drama can’t hold a candle to the real thing, visible at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s special exhibit, Body Worlds 2.
An actual female torso from the popular show, preserved and dissected to expose its vital organs, was displayed in the lobby of Summit Medical Center Tuesday as part of a state-wide promotional tour.
People of all ages approached the specimen with expressions ranging from intense curiosity to barely concealed revulsion.
“I think it’s awesome,” Frisco resident Susan Rose said. “How many times do we get to see what’s under our skin?” Rose went on to express a sentiment exhibit promoters are counting on.
“That’s our body,” she said. “It better not gross us out.”
Body Worlds 2 is the brainchild of German anatomist Gunther von Hagens, who invented the process called plastination in the 1970s to preserve specimens for medical education. An extremely time-consuming technique, plastination replaces fluids in the tissues of cadavers with liquid polymers that can be hardened. This hardening allows bodies to be positioned in lifelike poses, rather than soaking limply in formaldehyde solutions.
The Denver show, presented by Centura Health and billed as “the anatomical exhibition of real human bodies,” extends more than 17,000 square feet and is comprised of about 200 plastinated human body specimens, including more than 25 whole bodies in various life-like poses, healthy and unhealthy organs, body parts and slices.
The goal is education, said Denver Museum of Nature and Science communications and media manager Kendra Westerkamp, who accompanied the torso to Summit County.
“Some people know more about their cars than about their own body,” she said.
Exhibition director Bill Greenbaum explained the rationale behind the museum’s decision to sponsor the exhibition.
“They saw the need to bring anatomy to the layperson,” he said. “It’s always been the purview of the medical community.” Greenbaum sees knowledge of the body as a valuable tool in promoting healthy lifestyles.
“The exhibit has healthy organs juxtaposed against those that are challenged,” he said. “That really helps build healthy life-style choices.
Local orthopedic surgeon Peter Janes stopped by to take a look at the torso.
“I think it’s great,” he said. Janes said his daughter’s class at the Vail Mountain School is planning a field trip to the Denver museum to see the show.
Overall, promoters claim nearly 18 million people have seen some version of Body Worlds.
After years of organ and whole-body preservation, Von Hagens launched his first public exhibition of “plastinates” in Japan in 1996. According to the Body Worlds website, nearly three million people visited the original show during its three-year run.
The exhibit has toured several countries since 1997, including Germany, Belgium and Great Britain. After initial runs primarily in German cities, von Hagens recently has begun to concentrate his efforts in North America.
Los Angeles was the first American city to host von Hagens’ work, with the display of the original Body Worlds in 2004.
Body Worlds 2, the show featured in Denver, is similar in size and character to the original exhibition, but is comprised of different specimens. First presented in 2002 in Seoul, it made its U.S. debut in January 2005, also in Los Angeles. A third exhibition, dubbed Body Worlds 3, recently opened in Houston.
One reason for the move away from Western Europe may be the relative lack of controversy the exhibits have provoked in the U.S. and Canada. Protests from religious groups about lack of respect for the dead as well as allegations of unsavory methods of specimen procurement have dogged von Hagens in Europe.
In 2004, in response to strong ethical concerns, a local advisory committee of the California Science Center reviewed von Hagens and his work and found no problem with the Body Worlds exhibit.
Another criticism of the original exhibit is that it lacks many female specimens and that, by its dominance of male bodies to illustrate active poses, it reinforces the stereotype of women as passive child-bearers.
In a statement about Body Worlds 2, the organizers said von Hagens originally sought to avoid accusations of voyeurism by emphasizing male anatomy, and more female plastinates are included in the new exhibit.
Despite any controversy, Americans in general, and Coloradoans in particular, are lining up to peer into the secrets of the human body. Since the Denver show opened on March 10, more than 190,000 people have walked through its galleries, Westerkamp said.
It may take some getting used to, but Greenbaum said most visitors eventually warm up to their first view of what he refers to as the beauty under the skin.
“We get a lot of different reactions,” he said. “Mostly, it’s ‘wow!'”
Harriet Hamilton can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13624, or at email@example.com.
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