Drugs, Insanity, Death: The World’s Most Bizarre Museums
The Morbid Anatomy Museum
Today, May 18, is International Museum Day—which is really just an excellent reminder that we should make an effort every day to fill our lives with a bit more beauty, peculiarity and enlightenment. But it’s also an opportunity to consider that museums indeed offer so much more than just Damien Hirst, Jackson Pollock and Alexander McQueen. To that end, here are five of the oddest, and perhaps most unsettling of them all. Happy Museum Day:
This strange and captivating Brooklyn museum’s mission is stated as “Exploring the intersections of death, beauty and that which falls between the cracks.” It has become a meeting point for NYC’s more funereally disposed artistic souls, as well, hosting lectures, screenings and dark-hearted social gatherings. Its current temporary exhibition is The House of Wax: Anatomical, Pathological, and Ethnographical Waxworks from Castan’s Panopticum (Berlin, 1869-1922). Naturally.
Philly’s rather notorious museum of medical oddities, including historical surgical instruments, corrosion specimens, and the Hyrtl Skull Collection, is genuinely not for the squeamish or sensitive. Its current featured exhibition, Vesalius On The Verge: The Book and The Body, focuses on a series of 16th Century books on human dissection. Creepy.
Joseph Guislain was a forerunner of Freud, the first to posit that mental illness was indeed treatable and that its sufferers were to be cared for with dignity. This singularly fascinating eponymous museum is located in the rather lugubrious former asylum in which he did his groundbreaking work (in one of our favorite European cities, Ghent), and explores insanity and madness from Antiquity through to modern times. A current exhibition, titled Shame, is fairly self explanatory.
What the Renaissance is to Florence, so are drug wars to Mexico City. And indeed, this is a museum dedicated to its notorious and storied narco culture. Alongside an arsenal’s worth of seized firearms in display cases, there is an edifying run through the long history of drug abuse itself, and a plaque which commemorates those who have lost their lives battling the brutal cartels (it’s a lot). The museum is technically not open to the public; but call ahead (52 55 2122 8800) and say it’s for, um, educational purposes.
Renowned French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet first began assembling and collecting the artworks of the insane in 1945, influenced by Hans Prinzhorn’s seminal text Artistry of the Mentally Ill. Now, of course, the art world lumps it all together as “Outsider Art.” But this collection, located in the glorious Swiss city of Lausanne, is surely the most astonishing and, arguably, the most honest.