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Teaching the Body

BUAG show explores intersection of art and anatomy

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A fascinating new exhibition on campus explores the myriad ways anatomy has influenced both art and medicine in America from the mid 18th century to today. Titled Teaching the Body: Artistic Anatomy in the American Academy, from Copley, Rimmer, and Eakins to Contemporary Artists, the show includes more than 80 paintings, anatomy charts, photographs, rare books, drawings, casts, photographs, sculptures, and reproductions that reveal how artists have been influenced by the human anatomy. The show is on view at the Boston University Art Gallery at the Stone Gallery through March 31.

Curated by Naomi Slipp (GRS’15), BU’s Jan and Warren Adelson Fellow in American Art, the exhibition includes works by notable American artists John Singleton Copley, Thomas Eakins, Paul Revere, and Kiki Smith and draws largely on local collections. Teaching the Body focuses on “the study of artistic anatomy within Boston itself,” says Slipp, and allows the gallery to “use collections within the city that really hadn’t been seen and exhibit works, some of which hadn’t been looked at since the 19th century.”

Boston University BU, Teaching the Body: Artistic Anatomy in the American Academy, from Copley, Rimmer, and Eakins to Contemporary Artists, College of Fine Arts CFA

Curator Naomi Slipp (GRS’15) with Cast after Houdon’s Écorché, (n.d.) unattributed.

Working with BUAG director Kate McNamara, Slipp approached numerous institutions—among them the Harvard Medical Library, Mass General Hospital, and the Museum of Fine Arts—as well as private collections and local artists, requesting to borrow work for the exhibition. Visitors to the Stone Gallery are treated to a history of anatomy in America.

Drawing on sources from paintings to medical journals, Teaching the Body is of special interest to not only art and art history students, but to medical students as well. The exhibition includes informative texts that elucidate the history of anatomical illustration and offers numerous illustrations used in medical textbooks and charts. Eerily lifelike and lovely are pieces like Cast of the Hand of Harvey Cushing (1922), an unattributed bronze cast of a hand delicately extended from a cadaver. In Oscar Wallis’ painting The Neck, the artist exposes the inner mechanisms of a dead man’s throat, vividly depicting veins and arteries. One of the show’s most striking works is Lisa Nilsson’s delicate, golden Angelico (2012), a mulberry paper sculptural design of the inner brain.

Teaching the Body was made possible in part Slipp’s Adelson Fellowship, funded by Manhattan gallery owner and art historian Warren Adelson (CAS’63, GRS’64). Slipp says she was interested in exploring an aspect of American art history that is often overlooked—the role artistic anatomy plays in the development of artists’ work. She says she’s long been fascinated by the intersection of art and medicine.

Boston University BU, Teaching the Body: Artistic Anatomy in the American Academy, from Copley, Rimmer, and Eakins to Contemporary Artists, College of Fine Arts CFA, Stone Gallery

Self-Portrait Sagittal Slice by Edward Stitt, part of the Velázquez Triptych (1994).

“For my bigger work I’m interested in the way that medicine defines an ideal and healthy body, culturally the way that we accept medical ideals about the body and reflect them within representation,” says Slipp. “I think we tend to separate these medical representations or visualizations of ourselves from pure art. Hopefully people will step back and reconsider how their own bodies have been pictured and how they think about them.”

A number of events further examining the ways American artists have explored the human body over the past 250 years accompanies the exhibition. Among them are a series of lectures as well as a film screening and a guided tour of the show by Slipp on March 26 at 4 p.m. Find a full schedule of events here.

Teaching the Body: Artistic Anatomy in the American Academy, from Copley, Rimmer, and Eakins to Contemporary Artists is on display at the Boston University Art Gallery at the Stone Gallery, 855 Commonwealth Ave., through March 31. Admission and gallery events are free and open to the public; hours: Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m., closed Mondays and holidays. More information about exhibition events is here.

Erin Thibeau can be reached at ethibeau@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @erinthibeau.

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