HYDE PARK — More realistic blood and guts is something of a theme in a new exhibit opening at the University of Chicago.
“Imaging/Imagining the Human Body in Anatomical Representation” is a three-part exhibit opening March 25 on campus that explores how anatomical drawings developed from romantic images of a splayed corpse nobly posed to the generic, but universal, image of a brown liver floating over a white background.
The exhibit is the first for Dr. Brian Callender, an internist at the university.
He said he got the idea for the show from an idle conversation with a colleague in which he bet that being able to see the bones of living person dramatically changed how the bodies were depicted in art.
“In my non-expert mind, I thought there would be a break with the invention of the X-ray,” Callender said, adding that he imagined he would find anatomical drawings became more realistic in the early 20th century.
After a perusal of the university’s special collections, Callender discovered the break came far earlier in the 18th century, and changed from something much more bizarre.
He said he pored over folios of etchings of skeletons posed next to elephants and severed arms with the tendons carefully draped over a leather-bound tome.
“You had these artists and scientists working together and that later gave way to realism,” Callender said.
Working with curators at the Smart Museum of Art, Callender has now compiled a series of works to show the gradual development of anatomical drawings for exhibits on campus at the Regenstein Library, 1100 E. 57th St.; the Smart Museum, 5550 S. Greenwood Avenue; and the Crerar Library, 5730 S. Ellis Ave.
One of Callender’s favorite finds is a collection of watercolor pictures of wounds by painter Ivan Albright, best known for his dark and grotesque portraiture.
“He had spent time in a hospital in France in World War I and started watercolors of the soldiers there,” Callender said. “He actually also did watercolors of the X-rays that correspond with the wounds.”
The exhibit runs through June 22.
Callender said he’s already thinking of more shows based on the university’s special collections and is particularly interested in curating a show of early depictions of the fetus in utero.