If You Can’t Take The Grotesque, Get Out Of The Mutter


We love science museums, way above art galleries. Give us a day on the Intrepid and we’re happy as proverbial clams, while day-long artwalks require a bit of coaxing, or dragging, or payment. For us, talking about art while we’re actually looking at it (days later is another thing and our critical “faculties” are absolutely for hire) is about as fun as pulling teeth on a sugary day. While there’s really only a few things you can say about a battleship. “Sweet battleship.” “Dude. That battleship is huge.” “Huh. Yeah. Big battleship.” Can’t really post-contextualize or “well when we saw it in Venice…”

So we’re intrigued by the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, whose director, Gretchen Worden, just died. Our regrets. Part of the College of Physicians Philadelphia, the Mutter Museum is, according to today’s Times, a “collection of medical specimens and instruments,” and includes objects like famous Siamese twins’ Chang and Eng’s liver, “a man’s skull so eaten away by tertiary syphilis that it looks like a pounded rock,” and an “ovary larger than a soccer ball.”

While it’s easy to feel exploitative or gratuitous, we’ll admit that the last time we went to a similar medical museum, the Medical History Museum in Copenhagen, we spent no time with the jars and lots of time with the tools. These things are unequivocally fascinating to look at, we think, which Worden agreed with, although she at least managed to inject a little levity into formaldehyde with the catalogs she wrote and the visitors she attracted.

We’re still just working on the levity.