So enthused was the South Florida Science Center in rolling out its first exhibition in more than a year that it couldn’t wait to let media and VIPs in to see it—even if the exhibit, “Real Bodies,” was only partially installed.
That was the strange scene last Thursday morning, in which invited guests were ushered into the West Palm Beach museum to view what seemed like half of this blockbuster show. When it formally opens today (Sept. 28), “Real Bodies” will feature 20 immaculately preserved human bodies and more than 200 anatomical specimens spread throughout a sprawling 11 galleries. At last week’s press tour, we passed through many such galleries dotted with the detritus of installation—boxes and bubble wrap and empty display stands and placards for not-yet-mounted organs.
There still seemed to be a ways to go for an exhibition opening in two business days, but that’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of impressive work on stunning display. I can’t call this blog a full review; it’s more of my sampling of “Real Bodies” tapas, an enticing preview of things to come.
The bodies in question, preserved in polymer by the pioneering Chinese company Dalian Hoffen Bio-Technique Co., Ltd., are staggering to behold, offering a singularly intimate—even invasive—peak into the bones, muscles, ligaments and internal organs that keep us alive, from our brain stems to the phalanges of our toes. These sinewy, once-living sculptures, whose few colors conjure raw meat, and whose ligaments snake through the bodies like fiber-optic cable, are sure to draw comparisons to those of another blockbuster science exhibit, “Bodies: The Exhibition,” from the late 2000s.
But there is a perhaps ironic liveliness to the figures in “Real Bodies” that I don’t remember from the previous show. Because it is divided into themed sections like “Hunger,” “Rhythm,” “Love” and “Move,” the bodies are captured amid actions that represent some of these human emotions and needs. One figure appears to be hailing a cab; another sits, pondering, like Rodin’s “Thinker.” A soccer player is about to kick a ball, his viscera exposed for our edification.
And the show is, indeed, educational, with wall text expressing all of our bodies’ functions with succinctness and an occasional burst of poetry: Of our muscles, the author writes, “They are the beautiful strings that move the marionette. And we are the actors, puppet and puppeteer, in this little play called life.” It’s no wonder that quotes from Aristotle and Freud and Napoleon Hill are interspersed throughout the galleries.
“Real Bodies” is not about death, per the Science Center, and I believe it: It’s an exhibition about life at its most literal, the parts of our existence we never get to see. Enjoy it while it lasts—all the way until April 11, 2021.
The South Florida Science Center is at 4801 Dreher Trail N., West Palm Beach. The museum is open daily, and admission costs $10.95-$14.95. Call 561/832-1988 or visit sfsciencecenter.org.