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    Saturday, February 17, 2007

    Art and the Body: A historical perspective on the portrayal of the body in art, centered on the successful Body Worlds exhibition. Body Worlds was very popular when it came to Northeast Ohio. My children's teachers praised it, and many of my patients did, too. But there were rumors that those bodies were not so freely given:

    While, in North America, Body Worlds is now touring in three versions, in Europe it has disappeared, having gone unexhibited since 2004. For in that year, the German newsweekly Der Spiegel published a lengthy exposé of von Hagens, the burden of which was that at least some of his subjects showed evidence of bullet holes in the back of the neck, the preferred Chinese method of executing prisoners.

    Since the Chinese government is von Hagen’s principal supplier of bodies, this certainly seemed plausible. For his part, von Hagens fought the charge furiously, obtaining a court order enjoining Der Spiegel from repeating its findings. But in the meantime he also destroyed any potential evidence, cremating remains before they could be examined.

    Von Hagens’s public-relations problems in Europe have recently worsened. Barred from Germany, he had sought to establish a plant in nearby Poland, for which purpose he sent his eighty-eight-year-old father, Gerhard Liebchen, as his negotiator. Liebchen, it was reported (again by Der Spiegel), had been in Poland once before, as an SS officer in 1940. He had later been charged with compiling a list of 60 Poles to be sent to concentration camps.

    It is embarrassing that the nations of Western Europe, which have advanced so much farther than we along the road to a universal right to death by demand, should turn out to be so much more readily censorious of von Hagens’s ends and means. The reason may be that, historically, the mixing of murder and medicine is, to Europeans, a more familiar and more horrifying cultural theme. In any case, the fact is that American journalists have demonstrated remarkably little curiosity about von Hagens’s methods, and very few news stories about Body Worlds have even referred to the charges in Der Spiegel. Instead, most stories about the exhibition have the character of breezy press releases.

    posted by sydney on 2/17/2007 08:14:00 AM 0 comments


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