Drugs, Insanity, Death: The World’s Most Bizarre Museums

The Morbid Anatomy Museum

Today, May 18, is International Museum Day—which is really just an excellent reminder that we should make an effort every day to fill our lives with a bit more beauty, peculiarity and enlightenment. But it’s also an opportunity to consider that museums indeed offer so much more than just Damien Hirst, Jackson Pollock and Alexander McQueen. To that end, here are five of the oddest, and perhaps most unsettling of them all. Happy Museum Day:

The Morbid Anatomy Museum, New York


Morbid Anatomy Museum 2


This strange and captivating Brooklyn museum’s mission is stated as “Exploring the intersections of death, beauty and that which falls between the cracks.” It has become a meeting point for NYC’s more funereally disposed artistic souls, as well, hosting lectures, screenings and dark-hearted social gatherings. Its current temporary exhibition is The House of Wax: Anatomical, Pathological, and Ethnographical Waxworks from Castan’s Panopticum (Berlin, 1869-1922). Naturally.

Mütter Museum, Philadelphia




Philly’s rather notorious museum of medical oddities, including historical surgical instruments, corrosion specimens, and the Hyrtl Skull Collection, is genuinely not for the squeamish or sensitive. Its current featured exhibition, Vesalius On The Verge: The Book and The Body, focuses on a series of 16th Century books on human dissection. Creepy.

Museum Dr. Guislain, Ghent, Belgium


Museum Dr Guislain


Joseph Guislain was a forerunner of Freud, the first to posit that mental illness was indeed treatable and that its sufferers were to be cared for with dignity. This singularly fascinating eponymous museum is located in the rather lugubrious former asylum in which he did his groundbreaking work (in one of our favorite European cities, Ghent), and explores insanity and madness from Antiquity through to modern times. A current exhibition, titled Shame, is fairly self explanatory.

Museo De Enervantes, Mexico City


Museo de Enervantes


What the Renaissance is to Florence, so are drug wars to Mexico City. And indeed, this is a museum dedicated to its notorious and storied narco culture. Alongside an arsenal’s worth of seized firearms in display cases, there is an edifying run through the long history of drug abuse itself, and a plaque which commemorates those who have lost their lives battling the brutal cartels (it’s a lot). The museum is technically not open to the public; but call ahead (52 55 2122 8800) and say it’s for, um, educational purposes.

Collection De L’Art Brut, Lausanne, Switzerland


Art Brut Museum


Renowned French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet first began assembling and collecting the artworks of the insane in 1945, influenced by Hans Prinzhorn’s seminal text Artistry of the Mentally Ill. Now, of course, the art world lumps it all together as “Outsider Art.” But this collection, located in the glorious Swiss city of Lausanne, is surely the most astonishing and, arguably, the most honest.

Watch Alexander McQueen x Damien Hirst Scarves Fly

Hirst’s butterflies, McQueen’s kaleidoscopic prints, the iconic skull scarf (approaching its 10th anniversary) and an otherwordly film in which the scarves fly.

The film shows off an eery romance that Alexander McQueen so often embodies, as models cocooned in the collaboration scarves move with the wind, resembling sea creatures floating in the current. The scarves, available from November 15, feature Hirst’s entomological findings and his and Alexander McQueen’s mutual appreciation of skulls.

Damien Hirst Loves Your Kids – A YBA Alphabet Book – Finally.

Okay, so you soured a bit on British art star Damien Hirst when he covered a skull in diamonds and gave it some wank-off name alluding to spirituality and mortality. And you yawned when every Gagosian outpost in the universe showcased his spot paintings, and ran a contest in which whoever visited each gallery was awarded a signed print and the distinction of being the Saddest Person Alive. But now, the infamous animal-flaying, butterfly-collaging Hirst is back to redeem himself—with an ABC book that uses his own oeuvre to illustrate every letter of the alphabet.


“Fun for the whole family” crows the back cover copy of the clunky tome, whose pages are appropriately thick and kid-friendly. In this retrospective look back at Hirst’s career, youngsters can learn that P is for Pig (sliced in half, doused in formadelydhe, and displayed in two vitrines!) And that S is for Spin, of course, referring to those labor-unintensive masterpieces that no Palm Beach condo should be without. Lest you think this is some unofficial, unapproved publication exploiting Hirst’s fame, let us remind you that it’s published by Abrams in conjunction with Other Criteria, the company that officially hawks Damien’s merchandise, from Spot cufflinks to pill-shaped keyrings.


Conspiciously missing in ABC, however: “D is for Dead Head.” Maybe in the second edition.





Standout Show: Prabal Gurung

At Prabal Gurung’s spring 2014 show, models were precious dolls in a collection, untouched and pristine. But there was also a hint of Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, as echoed by hair stylist Paul Hanlon who explained that the hair was meant to look as though covered in formaldehyde – not quite hair anymore. The models were, after all, encased in a clear vitrine for display, the looks outliving the normally short-lived jaunt down the catwalk. Unlike Hirst’s shark, and in compliance with our disbelief, this collection was very much alive.

Their display was fortunate for show-goers, who had ample time to soak in the details of the collection. The presentation gave the feeling that these looks were freed for a rare outing before ushering themselves back in the box for preservation. Hand-embroidered rosettes made of Swarovski crystal, plastic flowers, painted black brush strokes and even coral all lived together on one black and white silk duchesse dress, while details of stacked sequins, ostrich feathers, rose-shaped paillettes, and ruffles decorated others.

photo via @prabalgurung

In artificial candy pastels and brights, the clothing combined 1950s cuts and shapes with modern, technical materials and methods. Catherine McNeil and Karlie Kloss stood out especially, in a corseted (exposed) electric blue satin off-the-shoulder dress and a mint satin bomber coupled with a matching pencil skirt trimmed in PVC, respectively. Tonal embroidery displayed a rose on Karlie’s number, articulating the beautiful, thorny flower that helped to inspire the collection.


Unnaturally fluorescent-bright, chalky lips accentuated the preserved, doll-like nature of the models; these lips were not made for talking, drinking, or eating, and the clothes themselves may be too fussy to live in, though the collection was and will be very much appreciated on display.


‘Great Art In Ugly Rooms’ Delivers What It Promises

This may be a familar scene to some of you. You’re at a new bar or a house party of a friend of a friend of a friend, and the place is hideous. Bad, ratty carpeting, lighting that makes everyone look like ill and sunken-in, scratched-up furniture, a couple of creepy antiques or piles that look like gateway drugs to a Hoarders episode. And then, in a corner of the kitchen or above the TV tuned to one of those Music Choice stations, there it is: a beautiful piece of art, a captivating painting, something that is a true breath of fresh air compared to the faux-Toulouse-Lautrec literally every one of your friends ever has. And you think, how can something so beautiful exist in a place so otherwise aesthetically displeasing? And why does this happen?  

Great Art in Ugly Rooms is a half-one note Tumblr, half visual experiment that explores that artistic dissonance by ‘shopping the great works of past and present into objectively hideous spaces. A stunner from Marilyn Minter sticks out like a sore thumb in a room full of garish loveseats; a de Kooning stands sentinel over a tossed, bare mattress in a space that looks creepy and abandoned, one of Roy Lichtenstein’s pop-art steaks sits, perhaps appropriately, next to an open, empty casket. There’s Vermeer in garages, Cezanne next to moldy curtains and, perhaps most disturbingly of all, Damien Hirst in what appears to be a child’s bedroom. The results are sometimes disturbing, but generally pretty fascinating. Take some time to scroll through them, and be sure to visit the companion, Great Video Art in Ugly Rooms, as well. 

Morning Links: Banjo Player Earl Scruggs Dies, Carson Daly Apologizes

● Banjo-playing, bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs died in Nashville yesterday at the age of 88. The influence his hard-driving, three-finger banjo pick had on his own Woodstock generation and those that followed (looking at you, Mumford and Sons) can not be overstated. [Billboard]

● In the heat of this boy band moment, 98-Degrees is rumored to be reuniting for the first time in ten years for a summer reunion tour. [RumorFix]

● Damien Hirst left this drawing of a shark — "just a quick sketch" to later be auctioned off for $7,400 — with one lucky chauffeur as a tip. Generous! [AnimalNY]

Mad Men writers cribbed that "rambunctiously racist" opening water-bomb scene straight from an A1 New York Times story from May 28, 1966. [NYT]

● Charlie Kaufman, of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich fame, has signed his first book deal with Grand Central Publishing. [Deadline]

● Not hot to discuss her late night dalliances, Rihanna brushed off questions about about a certain Mr. Kutcher at a London press conference for Battleship, calling the inquiries "disappointing." "I am happy and single if that’s what you are really asking," she allowed instead. [MissInfo]

● Carson Daly apologized yesterday after making a confusing and homophobic joke about how a theoretical flight full of gay men headed to a flower convention would not have been able to stop Clayton Osbon, the crazed JetBlue captain. "I’m saddened that my comments, however unintentional, offended anyone, specifically members of the LGBT community,” he said in a statement. [NYDN]

Morning Links: Steve Jobs Resigns as Apple CEO, Lil Wayne Maybe Disses Jay-Z

● Steve Jobs has stepped down from his post as Apple CEO, saying, “I have always said that if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s C.E.O., I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.” [NYT] ● Someone in Australia is making a musical about Kanye West and his “struggle against the man to become the man.” Sounds cool, bro. [LAT] ● Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s marriage is fine. See how hard they are smiling in all these pictures of their Malibu shopping trip? Totally casual. [TMZ]

● Is that a Jay-Z dis you’re hearing on Lil Wayne’s new “Baby Money”? In the past, Wayne has been insistent that he won’t “box with the god,” but that part about “‘how much you love your lady’ money” sounds sort of serious. [Complex] ● Damien Hirst tattooed a model’s nether regions for an upcoming issue of Garage magazine. That’s one expensive sounding accessory. [Page Six] ● Jim Carrey should have turned off the camera when he got to the “If I were a lot younger…” part. Actually, he probably should have never turned on the camer. But alas, the man has feelings, and thus: a creepy video in which Carrey confesses his love to Emma Stone. [DListed]

Mr. Brainwash Hired to Promote New Red Hot Chili Peppers Album

Mr. Brainwash, in case you don’t remember, is the videographer-turned-street “artist” in Exit Through the Gift Shop who was believed to be an elaborate hoax or performance art piece or something for a while. Turns out he must be officially “real” because the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who have already recruited Damien Hirst for their new cover art, have hired Mr. Brainwash to do a series of street art installations in L.A. promoting the new album.

Let me take this moment to commend RHCP for showing such a strong interest in contemporary art and using their platform as famous rock stars to bring it to a wide audience. But let me also take this moment to chastise them for choosing Mr. Brainwash (real name: Thierry Guetta) of all people, when there are plenty of kickass street artists out there. Did everyone here see Exit Through the Gift Shop? Brainwash’s M.O. is to mass-produce relentlessly empty and un-original pieces to the point of being sued for copyright infringement, all the while raking in large amounts of money. He’s kind of infuriating.

Then again, street art has to be monetized somehow and this is a creative way to accomplish that – maybe this will lead to artists with more cred getting this kind of opportunity. An example of Mr. Brainwash’s RHCP stuff:


Damien Hirst Does Cover Art for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ New Album

Aging SoCal rock pioneers the Red Hot Chili Peppers have teamed up with British artist Damien Hirst for the cover of their new album, I’m With You. Yes, RHCP are coming out with a new album despite being officially middle-aged. It’s coming August 30.

Hirst, the most important of the 1990s-era “YBAs” (Young British Artists), is famous for semi-shocking works like a dead tiger shark embalmed in fluid and glitter-encrusted human skulls. He seems to have toned it down a bit for this effort. It looks like an amalgamation of the medicine cabinet sculptures from Hirst’s early career and the later dead fly paintings. Compared to other RHCP album covers, it’s quite clinical and minimalist. Will it have the same teenage bedroom adornment potential as By the Way or Blood Sugar Sex Magik? Only time — and possibly the art market — will tell.