The Museum rode the crest of a cultural wave – we were a part of the ascendence of weirdness, and the mainstream embrace of the culture of curiosity.
That line is from a eulogy written to honor the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, New York, which closed its doors earlier this month after two-and-a-half years in operation. While it may seem redundant to eulogize a museum of all things dead, those who visited it will miss the exhibits on taxidermy, anatomy, rituals of death and mourning and the like.
What killed the Morbid Anatomy Museum? The same thing that kills so many good ideas … money, or more specifically, the lack of it. Founder and CEO Tracy Hurley Martin made an appeal on the blog, Facebook and elsewhere in late November to raise $75,000 quickly, but $8,000 in two weeks was not quick enough.
Let’s face facts: there are not a lot of grant programs for ‘death and beauty,’ and there is no major philanthropic foundation dedicated to ‘the celebration of artifacts, histories and ideas that fall between the cracks of high and low culture.
Museum co-founder Joanna Ebenstein says she was a kid who liked dead animals and once received a taxidermy kit for a gift. (Seeing that under the Christmas tree must have mortified the family dog). Her interest became a career as she managed the Morbid Anatomy Library and Morbid Anatomy blog and lectured on all things morbid. A Halloween talk brought her in contact with equally morbid twins, Tonya and Tracy Hurley Martin, who joined forces, raised money and opened the museum in 2014 in a former nightclub.
The opening exhibition was “The Art of Mourning,” featuring over 90 related objects such as memorial photographs, Victorian hair art, mourning china and death masks. Past exhibits included “Do The Spirits Return?” – a study of magician Harry Thurston and magic’s link to spiritualism; “Taxidermy: Art, Science & Immortality” – rare preserved animals from private collections; and “Opus Hypnagogia: Sacred Spaces of the Visionary and Vernacular” – an art exhibit on Hypnagogia – defined as “the experience of the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep: the hypnagogic state of consciousness, when mental phenomena such as lucid dreaming, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis occur.”
Unfortunately, it’s too late to see any of those interesting exhibits now. The Morbid Anatomy Library will probably return to Joanna Ebenstein’s safekeeping. The museum’s website is still up, as is the blog and the Facebook page. As for the future, the only things certain for the former curators of the Morbid Anatomy Museum are death (obviously), back taxes and a suitably morbid-sounding promise:
Thank you again, to our many friends, collaborators, and stakeholders. We don’t yet know what comes next, but we’ll look forward to seeing you on the other side of this.