DENVER, April 29 /PRNewswire/ -- Gunther von Hagens' BODY WORLDS, the traveling anatomical exhibitions of donor bodies welcomes its 25th million visitor this week. Though it will not be known if the distinction will go to a visitor entering the turnstile at BODY WORLDS in Los Angeles, or if the honor will go instead to a visitor at BODY WORLDS in Milwaukee, or Baltimore, or Manchester, England, the number is a stellar achievement in museum exhibition history.
Since 1996, when anatomist, Gunther von Hagens presented the first BODY WORLDS at the National Science Center in Tokyo, to commemorate the centennial of the Japanese Anatomical Society, the exhibitions, now numbering four, have struck a deep chord and resonated with people in 47 cities around the world. In Los Angeles, more than 1 million people have seen BODY WORLDS in its three editions; in Chicago -- 1,187,583; Berlin -- 1,393,902; Seoul -- 2,039,136; London -- 840,611; Brussels -- 506,793; Denver -- 687,022.
The numbers are so staggering that Jeff Rudolph, President of the California Science Center, who presented the first BODY WORLDS exhibition in North America, followed by the second and, now, third of Dr. von Hagens' exhibitions, coined a new term for the phenomena -- The BODY WORLDS Effect. "BODY WORLDS brought not just expanded audiences ... but enhanced our brand as a science learning institution," wrote Rudolph, who is now also one of 8,458 registered donors in the Body Donation Program of the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg, Germany, the primary source of bodies in BODY WORLDS exhibitions.
A seminal museum experience that inserted the post-mortal body into the cultural landscape and contemporary consciousness, BODY WORLDS exhibitions have fulfilled their mission of public health and science education, but also forever changed our notions about conception and death by provoking philosophical and religious reflection in visitors.
In the October 2007 Journal of Medical Humanities, Dr. Charleen Moore of University of Texas and Dr. C. McKenzie Brown of Trinity University, who examined more than 70,000 visitor comments about BODY WORLDS wrote: "For many visitors, both laypersons and the medically trained, it is very much a kind of meditation hall where they are compelled to ponder deep assumptions about their own personal and social identity, their relationship to the universe and/or to God, and to the meaning and purpose of life." The comment books, wrote Moore and Brown, frequently mirror the social, political and ideological issues in contemporary society and what amounts to running debates on especially controversial issues, serving as a microcosm of the culture wars currently fought in society at large.
The success of the exhibitions created by Dr. von Hagens -- who invented the science of Plastination, the anatomical specimen preservation method that makes it possible to present the aesthetic, didactic anatomy evident in BODY WORLDS -- has spawned a number of copycat displays by commercial interests also claiming the mission of public health, but none claiming the legal consent of those on display.
For Gunther von Hagens, the inventor of Plastination and the mind behind BODY WORLDS-once described as, "an envelope pusher and intellectual adventurer of the type humankind occasionally needs," and honored last year as a Modern Day Leonardo Da Vinci -- the exhibitions are not an elegy but a celebration of human potential. "We humans are the only self regarding beings on the planet, and the exhibitions are a forum for introspection, to contemplate life in the absence of the animating spirit and soul. Twenty-five million visitors may amount to a mass introspection on our humanity, but I am delighted even more that the experience for each person is singular and emotional."
Gunther von Hagens is currently working on the third chapter of his anatomical opus, The Human Saga, a special feature on Aging that follows The Three Pound Gem, which focuses on the brain, now showing in Baltimore, and The Story of the Heart, which considers cardiology and heart health, now in Los Angeles.
SOURCE BODY WORLDS