WASHINGTON – Two flayed men hold hands.
One is a skeleton with a broken right arm,his bone lumped and twisted from improper healing. The other is stripped to his muscles,his face stretched into what looks like a grimace.
At first glance,the display is hardly the most shocking in the traveling exhibit of real human bodies preserved with liquid silicone rubber. A man sliced thinly into 92 pieces,fetuses in jars and preserved male genitalia comprise other displays in the exhibition.
But then visitors see the plaque accompanying the sinewy couple.
The bones and muscles belonged to the same man.
“Bodies… the Exhibition” opens Saturday and runs at least through October at the Dome in Rosslyn,Va.,the former location of the Newseum. It’s about two blocks from the Rosslyn Metro stop. Tickets are $26.50 for adults and $18 for children and are available online or at the museum.
The controversial exhibition,organized by the Atlanta-based Premier Exhibitions Inc.,features human corpses permanently preserved through a process that replaces all water with a polymer mixture.
Visitors can handle polymer-preserved human organs,such as a heart and a brain,at a touch station near at end of the exhibit.
The gallery installed extra security cameras and increased its staff after someone pocketed a kidney from a Seattle exhibit’s touch station in December. The kidney was recovered in February thanks to an anonymous tip.
The exhibition features nine sections showcasing different systems of the human body.
The nervous system exhibit includes a cross-section of a brain damaged by stroke.
The digestive display has side-by-side digestive tracts,one unwound and one packed beneath lungs,which show the grooves left by ribs and the indentation left by the stomach.
At a media tour Thursday,Glover focused on a diseased pair of lungs in the respiratory exhibit. Visitors can drop their cigarette packs into a large case near the lungs,shriveled and blackened by a lifetime of smoking,he said.
“We don’t tell people that they shouldn’t smoke or drink or eat McDonalds hamburgers,” he said. “What we tell them is that the things they put in their body have consequences to their personal health.”
The circulatory system exhibit is a macabre aquarium,bright red and blue bronchial trees and pulmonary systems fixed in glass like coral.
Across the room,an entire artery system cobwebs to form a lacey shell of a man,glowing lava-lamp red behind glass.
“We call him ‘the red man,’” Glover said,noting that more than 60,000 miles of blood vessels thread through the human body.
Some displays seem to straddle the line between science and science fiction.
A man’s skin,flayed and spread in a chalk-outline,crime-scene pose on a table,brings to mind scenes from “Silence of the Lambs.”
“This is the part that often gives people the heebie jeebies,” Glover said.
In another dimly lit room,a row of illuminated jars contains fetuses at different stages of development. A mass of digestive organs – a visceral hernia – protrudes from one fetus curled up in a display case.
Visitors can opt to skip the fetal exhibit,but Glover said that most people choose to see it. He said the exhibit doesn’t advocate any political stance,but that both abortion rights and anti-abortion groups have been impressed with the exhibit.
“They say,‘This is the best gallery we could ever have to show our point of view,’” Glover said.
The exhibition,and others like it run by different companies,have faced criticism from religious groups and human rights advocates.
Some human rights advocates argue that Dalian Medical University in China,through which “Bodies… the Exhibition” receives its corpses,was implicated in the use of death-row prisoners for commercial purposes.
The cadavers in “Bodies… the Exhibition” were unclaimed,unidentified or poor people in China. Some people have criticized Premier,which makes most of its money displaying items from the Titanic,for using bodies without the dead person’s permission.
“People will say,‘How can you do this? It’s really not right for you to do that,’” Glover said.
He said the bodies were obtained legally and that he has no moral qualms about their use in an educational setting.
He said he hopes the U.S. government will more strictly regulate the industry,“not so exhibitions like this can be shut down,but so everyone can feel more comfortable with how things are done.”
Near the end of the exhibit,visitors are asked to consider donating their bodies to science for research use. People can leave their contact information with the exhibit to connect them with donation institutions in their area.
“Through an exhibit like this,we can encourage people to think about making those kinds of decisions,” Glover said.