Mike and Doug Starn, Blot Out the Sun #1, 1988-89. Courtesy of the artists.


Archived exhibitions are no longer available for booking but are maintained as a virtual record of past Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) programs.

For thousands of years, physicians and artists have worked side-by-side to document the mysteries of the human body. Skilled draftsmen recorded every detail of the anatomy, from the inner workings of the small intestines to the musculature of the human hand. In time, X-rays, angiograms, and other high-tech images supplanted artistic renderings. While we have a greater understanding of the body as a result of these innovations, we have abandoned a traditional art form that was once as important to scientific study as any mechanical invention.

In recent years, contemporary artists have renewed their interest in medical imagery—now a marriage of science and personal creativity. Visionary Anatomies brings together 18 works by 11 artists whose art incorporates anatomical images and concepts. In media ranging from painting and drawing to photography and mixed media, these artists combine allusions of the scientific understanding of the human body with more subtle aspects of human expression. The exhibition has been developed by J.D. Talasek, curator of exhibitions for the National Academy of Sciences, and will premiere in the galleries of the National Academies of Sciences in Washington, D.C. Artists represented in the exhibition include: Frederick Sommer, Stefanie Burkle, Katherin Du Tiel, Tatiana Garmendia, Predrag Pajdic, Connie Imboden, Joy Garnett, Richard Yarde, Katherine Sherwood, Mike and Doug Starn, and Keith Miller, Janine Fron, Jack Ludden, Ellen Sandor, all of (art)n, with Jim Strommer of UCLA's School of Medicine.

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Exhibition specifications


18 works (various media); text panels; labels

Supplemental At least 12 copies of the exhibition catalogue provided for each venue
Participation Fee

$5,000; plus prorated shipping of $2,700

Running Feet 200 running feet (60 running meters)
Crates 6
Weight 1,980 lbs. (898 kg.)
Category Art
Security High
Shipping Prorated, SITES-designated carrier
SITES Contacts

Ed Liskey to schedule, 202.633.3142

Tour dates 9/17/2005 - 6/17/2007
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Tour itinerary

Dates Host Institution Status
9/17/05 11/27/05 Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ Booked
9/16/06 12/10/06 University Museums, University of Delaware Booked
1/6/07 3/18/07 Mead Art Museum, Amherst, MA Booked
4/7/07 6/17/07 Art League of Long Island, Dix Hills, NY Booked
8/11/07 10/28/07 Art Museum of Western Virginia Booked
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Related publications

Visionary Anatomies and the Great Divide: Art, Science, and the Changing Conventions of Anatomical Representation, 1500-2003 by Michael Sappol, Ph.D., with an introduction by JD Talasek and foreword by Harvey V. Fineberg, MD, PhD. Exhibition catalogue, National Academy of Sciences, 2004, soft cover, 40 pages.

Download the catalogue

Visionary Anatomies catalogue cover


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Press Release


Art, Science and Anatomical Imagery Merge “Visionary Anatomies” on Display
in Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Visionary Anatomies showcases the work of 11 contemporary artists inspired by human anatomical imagery to express aesthetic, social and cultural ideas. The exhibition of 18 works represents a wide range of media, artistic styles and schools of thought that actively exist in the art world today.

Created by the National Academy of Sciences and organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, “Visionary Anatomies” will be on view Sept. 18 through Nov. 6 at the Monmouth Museum in Lincroft, N.J. The exhibition will continue on a six-city national tour through 2007.

For centuries, medical science has relied on artists to further the understanding of the human body. Throughout the last 25 years, advances in imaging technology have supplanted the need for traditional artists’ renderings of the anatomy. However, contemporary artists are returning to the medical field for inspiration. From the modest beginnings of woodcuts and etchings to modern X-rays and angiograms, artists’ interpretations have evolved with the understanding of the body.

The inspiration for many of the photographs, paintings and mixed media works is often a technical image, such as an X-ray, manipulated or recreated to convey a personal statement. The compositions in “Visionary Anatomies” disassemble, reconstruct and rearrange the human body according to the artists’ motives. In some cases, the artists’ own maladies have inspired their work; one such painter merges images of her own angiograms with healing symbols from a 17th-century sorcery book. However, not all of the artwork is personal; some artists simply create optical illusions or deliver cultural and societal suggestions.

“Visionary Anatomies” exemplifies the continued dialogue between artists and scientists, which leads to the discovery of powerful metaphors in medical images and the insights that they contain. The work that results from these partnerships, according to exhibition curator JD Talasek, has “the potential to remind us of our humanity and to keep alive our sense of wonder and awe.”

The artists featured in the exhibition include Stefanie Bürkle, Katherine Du Tiel, Tatiana Garmendia, Joy Garnett, Connie Imboden, Predrag Pajdic, Katherine Sherwood, Frederick Sommer, Mike and Doug Starn, Richard Yarde and the group (art)n.

The National Academy of Sciences was chartered by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Although primarily dedicated to the furtherance of sciences, the NAS also recognizes the significant role art plays in society and history. For the past 25 years, NAS’ Office of Exhibitions and Cultural Programs has sponsored exhibitions, concerts and other events, focusing primarily on the intersection of art and science.

The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) has been sharing the wealth of the Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage though a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play.

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Exhibition Specifications

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