Morbid library seeks second life

Morbid library seeks second life
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

An exhibit that celebrates man’s fascination with death is poised to rise from the grave.

A bevy of silver-tongued scholars, scribes, raconteurs, and anecdotalists will tell the story of the lost relics of the Morbid Anatomy Library in a bid to raise money to rebuild the collection of macabre oddities that were damaged in a fire.

“The library is a small room, but it’s filled floor to ceiling with medical books, taxidermy, art work, and postmortem photographs,” said curator Joanna Ebenstein, who organized a series of rapid-fire micro-lectures on June 30.

“I’m interested in the fact that death in our time is considered a taboo topic. In other cultures it’s considered an inevitable aspect of life, and I think it’s perverse in a way that we’re not supposed to talk about it.”

The Morbid Anatomy Library, once a project-in-residence at the Proteus Gowanus gallery, was ruined following a particularly malevolent Good Friday this year, when artwork fashioned from antique pre-safety matches caught fire in an upstairs gallery, triggering the building’s sprinkler system and inundating the museum’s collection of rare books, artifacts, and anatomical curiosa in a ruinous deluge.

“I lost about 15 percent of the books, some things that were pretty irreplaceable,” said Ebenstein. “The lesson to be learned is don’t ever accept an art piece made of pre-safety matches.”

In a bid to rebuild her exhibit of odd objects, Ebenstein has invited a motley crew of speakers to deliver a series of five-minute-long lectures about scientific and artistic oddities. Speakers include TV personalities Mike Zohn and Ryan Mathews of the Science Channel show “Oddities,” “Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy” author Melissa Milgrom, New York Magazine writer Mark Jacobson, “Portraits of the Mind” author Carl Schoonover, Lisa O’Sullivan of the New York Academy of Medicine, “The Affected Provincial’s Almanac” author Lord Whimsy, and Queens College professor Amy Herzog.

After an hour of lectures, Ebenstein will host a silent auction of macabre works of art, artifacts, and once-live specimens.

“I have a pretty good roster of friends who do interesting work, either in photography taxidermy wax, or print and they’ve all donated a piece to help rebuild the library,” said Ebenstein.

Proteus Gowanus [543 Union St. between Nevins and Bond streets in Gowanus, (718) 243–1572, www. proteusgowanus.org]. June 30, 8 pm. $25.

Reach reporter Colin MIxson at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4514.

Aviary of the odd: Joanna Ebenstein is holding a June 30 fund raiser to rebuild the Morbid Anatomy Library, which was home to dozens bird species — albeit, of the stuffed variety.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini