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Anatomical Venus

One of the most bizarre relics from bygone days of anatomical understanding is the Anatomical Venus. Endowed with a startlingly lifelike appearance, full-size, and lovingly detailed, these wax models, popular through the 18th and 19th centuries, represented idealized beauties with body parts and organs that could be revealed and removed in a layer-by-layer dissection. Made with real hair, sometimes real eyelashes, glass eyes, bedecked with pearls, they were meant to enlighten the public on the anatomy of the animal “made in God’s image,” in a way that would be accessible and aesthetically pleasing.

With her strange, alluring, languid beauty, the Venus exudes a morbid eroticism that is simultaneously repulsive and fascinating, and so disturbing to the modern eye. Her far-off gaze seems to bespeak religious ecstasy, perhaps bordering on martyrdom (I imagine it as her sacrifice to our viewing/invasion of her interior spaces), as much as death and sensuality. I look at her, and I can’t help but to feel sorry for her, so exposed and vulnerable in her display case, her glass coffin lined with silk and velvet, eternally disassembled for our education and delectation. I feel as though as I am looking at her last thoughts as she’s dying upon her sumptuous bed, and there is an inherent, latent cruelty or brutality in the voyeuristic quality of this gaze. I can never know the nature of what she is thinking, I can only witness her dissected and intruded-upon body, transfixed in an unwitting, helpless macabre striptease. There is something both obscene and divine about this exquisite lost art form that was as much aesthetic marvel as scientific aid.

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Sarah Allen Eagen

Sarah Eagen is a New York-based sculpture, installation, and mixed media artist as well as photographer and painter. She is “inspired by bio-art, body architecture, and biological surrealism”; she focuses on evoking a visceral response in the viewer and explores the tensions between comfort and discomfort, the beautiful and the grotesque, and the dissolved borders between these seeming contradictions, where “something is at once seductive and repulsive.”

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Berlinde De Bruyckere: “We Are All Flesh”

These disturbing and uncannily lifelike sculptures by Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere are incredibly visceral and eerie. The repulsion instinctively triggered in the viewer comes from their verisimilitude, and the sense of reality of this nameless, grotesque, distorted, half-human, seemingly fluid flesh; combined with their beauty, the delicate, subtle mottling of colors, the pure realistic visceral “fleshiness” of the works, and their technical grace.

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Organic Forms in Extraterrestrial Life: The Art of Laurie Hassold

Laurie Hassold’s macabre, alien, and delicate sculptures are alarming and beautiful. Disturbingly sexualized, inspired by >radial symmetry, they resemble specimens or fossils in an esoteric collection of bizarre lifeforms that have arisen on other worlds, bringing to mind both Lovecraftian horrors and Ernst Haeckel‘s illustrations of sea anemones. Made with wire, clay, paint, bones, and found objects, these intricate pieces masterfully merge an impression of the organic and the alien, and evoke a sense of the terrifyingly sublime.

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Rebekah Bogard’s Fictional Animals

Rebekah Bogard’s cute, pink and white, rabbit-like ceramic sculpture creatures, arranged in installations, explore themes of gender, femininity, and sexuality. As Rebekah says in her artist statement, “I enjoy utilizing animals because they are beautiful and mysterious creatures, vulnerable to relations with humans. This susceptibility gives them a sense of benevolence that is often lacking in human associations….Some pieces look cute, sweet and innocent, but upon closer inspection, one realizes that the piece is conceptually more complicated. They may be read simultaneously as happy-go-lucky as well as melancholic and out of place. I blend the beautiful with the sad, fantasy with reality, idealism with truth as well as the sexual with the innocent.”

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Alex CF’s Mythical and Nightmare Specimens

Alex CF painstakingly creates cryptozoological specimens encased in bell jars and elaborate, gorgeous display cabinets replete with the paraphernalia, notes, and mementos of the scientific ventures that captured these exquisite specimens. He assembles complete miniature scenes around the specimens: there are reliquaries, study cases, vampire slaying kits, portable bio-aetheric animation laboratories, coffers, and sarcophagi. The specimens are drawn from literary works, including Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Dante’s Inferno, H. G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, H. P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and Chthulhu Mythos, as well as folklore and legend. The array of allusions to classical eerie fiction is delightful. He reimagines and renders these cryptic, bizarre, mythical creatures and beings, sirens, faeries, mutants, succubi, devilspawn, atrocities against nature, resulting in specimens that are disturbingly lifelike and alluringly detailed. The displays also come with beautifully drawn illustrations, which are as fascinating as the specimens themselves.

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