House of Wax: Anatomical, Pathological, and Ethnographic Waxworks from Castan’s Panopticum, Berlin, 1869-1922



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House of Wax: Anatomical, Pathological, and Ethnographic Waxworks from Castan’s Panopticum, Berlin, 1869-1922

House of Wax will exhibit a selection of  waxworks once shown as part of Castan’s Berlin-based Panopticum (1869-1922). The full collection, never before exhibited in the US, will later be installed at the forthcoming Alamo Drafthouse in Downtown Brooklyn.

Panoptica were popular throughout Europe from the 18th through the early 20th century. Like the dime museums and popular anatomical museums of the US, these largely forgotten spaces fall somewhere between aristocratic cabinets of curiosity and today’s ideas of museums. Castan’s was a typical panoptikum of its day, displaying for a popular audience anatomical and pathological waxworks; real human specimens; death masks of celebrities and murderers; ethnographic busts; Anatomical Venuses, or recumbent female waxes displaying the mysteries of generation; wax models showing the effects of syphilis (still a fatal disease at this time) as well as assorted curiosities such as “elephant tusks, mummies, stuffed alligators, and gorillas.” They also presented live acts including singers, dancers, ventriloquists, hunger artists, and even living “freaks and ethnic ‘rarities’” (Source: Living Pictures, Missing Persons: Mannequins, Museums, and Modernity, Mark B. Sandberg, Princeton University Press).The exhibition will launch with a party on Friday, October 23. This will include a champagne toast anda tour of the new exhibition with curator Ryan Matthew Cohn as part of VIP admission. Regular admission will begin at 8:00 PM and will feature complimentary wine and cocktails and talks in the space by curator Ryan Matthew Cohn, Morbid Anatomy Museum Creative Director Joanna Ebenstein, Rebecca Messbarger, author of The Lady Anatomist, and historian Elizabeth Bradley, author of “At the [Human] Zoo: A Sampling of Ethnographic Exhibitions on the Modern World.” DJ in residence Friese Undine will play arcane tunes, and David Corey will curate thematic antique film clips. Tickets and more here.

Note: Viewer discretion is advised as some of the artifacts in this show are graphic in nature, including nudity and antiquated approaches to race. We believe that it is our duty as a cultural and educational institution to critically display items that may otherwise be ignored or erased from cultural memory. By better understanding the past, perhaps we can better understand the present.

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