Reviews Art

Anatomy in the Gallery

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 10 March 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:606
  1. Chloe Veltman, freelance writer (chloe{at}
  1. San Francisco, United States

A rotating exhibition programme at the International Museum of Surgical Science, Chicago, United States. The current installations will be on display until 22 April 2005

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A small, blue blanket sits upon a medical examination table, as if a child has mislaid it there. It looks soft, but feels surprisingly rough to the touch. Upon closer inspection, the blanket reveals itself to be crocheted not out of wool but from disposable hospital examination gowns.

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L J Douglas: Mixed Race #2, Terra Derma

The blanket is part of an interactive, multi-media installation entitled The Waiting Room, by Illinois-based artist Karen Jayne, currently on show at the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago alongside The Body… Re-imagined, a series of paintings that explore the skin's surface by Illinois painter L J Douglas. The Waiting Room and The Body… Re-imagined are part of the museum's ongoing Anatomy in the Gallery exhibition programme, which presents work by contemporary artists dealing with a range of medically related themes and which changes every two to three months.

The Waiting Room focuses on Jayne's relationship with her chronically ill child and the medical community that surrounds her. From Appointment, a tatty-looking side-table and chair, enmeshed in a web of shredded strands of old hospital records and doctors' prescriptions, to Waiting Room, an electrocardiogram embroidered on a white handmade paper-woven rug resting on a shelf supported by piles of glossy magazines, Jayne's emotionally explicit work conveys a sense of time passing slowly, endless waiting, and tolerant resignation regarding the process of illness and institutionalised care.

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Karen Jayne: detail from Waiting Room

Unlike Jayne's installation, which wears its heart on its sleeve, Douglas's paintings are, at least on the surface, clinical and unemotional. Abstract collages of tiny painted dots speckled with fragments of paper and other materials in mainly yellow, pink, and orange hues, Douglas's fantastical, detailed studies of human skin reveal their inner life only gradually. The canvases, with their overtones of pointillism and computer art, appear to shift depending on where you stand, transforming human skin into a landscape to be explored through detailed scientific observation.

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