The International Museum of Surgical Science (IMSS) is located 1524 North Lakeshore Drive, in a historic, monumental, palatial Gold Coast Mansion. They are currently hosting two new art exhibitions. Chicago’s own Mairin Hartt: Against the Grain is on display from September 11-January 24. Her artwork is perfectly suited to the “Anatomy in the Gallery ” Exhibition Series. Hartt is a visual artist and arts educator. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing from the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) in 2006 and a Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art from the University of Wisconsin in 2011. She also has a Masters of Art in Arts Education. Using mixed media: pen and ink on toned paper she captures the microscopic cross-sections of human muscle and connective tissue documenting a macroscopic view of the intricacies, complexity, and relationships between muscle fiber and human tissue that allow for the miracle of life. Although, Mairin Hartt describes her work as . . . “as an attempt to establish a physical representation of the elusive-exploring the uncomfortable space between growth and decay/existence and non-existence.” My own perspective is her art is a unique representation of the marvelous relationship between collaboration of cellular functions. This manifestation of an internal view of cross-section cuts of muscular fibers creates abstract beauty. The assistant curator, Carys O’Neill, has added an original copy of Dr. Max Thorek’s Modern Surgical Technic vol. III from 1938 displays photographs that parallel this exhibition and are an amazing mirror to Hartt’s renderings. Her exhibit is partially sponsored by the Illinois Arts Council Agency.
Zoe Beloff: Emotions Go to Work exhibit: August 2020 until March 2021, involves a range of mediums including films, drawings and historical documents. Beloff hails from Edinburgh, Scotland where she studied painting and drawing. After moving to New York City in 1980, she earned her Masters of Fine Art in Film from Columbia University. Her work is colorful, delightful, comical and yet radical in the messages she provokes. There are billions of devices connected to the internet, all collecting and sharing our once assumed private data. She communicates how through this technology and information gathering our feelings are being turned into financial capital and where evolution is taking us. She is technologically savvy and uses barcodes that can be read on your phone for information on her artwork. Beloff is a professor at City University New York Queens College and has received numerous fellowships from The Graham Foundation, Guggenheim Foundation, The Radcliffe Institute at Harvard, The Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and the New York Foundation for the Arts.
The IMSS itself is a fascinating adaptive reuse landmark with so much unsung history, romance, marble, and gilded staircases. It was built in 1917 as a private residence for Chicago socialite, Eleanor Robinson Countiss, an heir to the fortunes of the Diamond Match Company. She was an entrepreneur and remembered for her socially progressive activities in Chicago and service to the Red Cross. Her home hosted luminary glitterati of the time including the Drakes, Mortons, and Shedds. She even hosted the Pulitzer winning author, Edna Ferber, who was recovering from a rhinoplasty. It is rumored that the novel So Big was inspired by Eleanor Countiss when she divorced her first husband in 1923 to marry the man she fell in love with Lawrence H. Whiting. She married him in 1925. Together they founded the American Furniture Mart now known as the Merchandise Mart. She modeled her home after the Neoclassical Petit Trianon in Versaille, Marie Antoinette’s residence. Howard Van Doren Shaw, whose father served on the planning committee for the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition was the architect. Howard Van Doren was a celebrated architect to wealthy Chicagoans of the time and responsible for the construction and attention to detail of this impressive mansion that has stood the test of time.
The 30-room mansion covers 18,000-square feet of living space and remained in the family until 1950 when Dr. Max Thorek purchased it and opened it to the public as the International Museum for Surgical Science in 1954. He founded the IMSS in 1935 for the purpose of sharing surgical knowledge world-wide. The IMSS has a Taiwan and Japanese Room and gives credence to Eastern and Western Medicine. Dr. Thorek, himself was a brilliant surgeon, musician, research scientist, prolific author, and photographer with works at the Art Institute of Chicago. He was a Renaissance man with extraordinary talents and a fascinating history.
Dr. Thorek was born March 1880 in Hungary to parents both in the medical field. His father was a doctor and his mother a midwife with an obstetrics degree. He was studying in Budapest when his brother was killed in a pogrom. His family fled after this tragedy and settled on the West side of Chicago where they had relatives. There was no money for Max to continue his studies until he got creative. He was a violinist with an itinerant orchestra and heard that the University of Chicago offered scholarships to its band members. Unfortunately, they had no need for a gifted violinist, but they were desperate for a snare drum player. He bluffed his way through an interview and then purchased a snare drum at a pawn shop. His fellow roving musicians taught him to play the snare drum so he could snag an education at U of C graduating in 1904. From there he graduated medical school at Rush and teamed up with Surgeon Greenspan. Together they established the American Hospital in 1911, now known as Thorek Memorial Hospital on Irving Park Road, They served and cared for the performing arts community. Among his patients were poor entertainers along with celebrity stars such as Houdini, Mae West, the Marx Brothers, and Buffalo Bill Cody. “The International College of Surgeons (ICS) has a long and inclusive history, dating to 1935, with 85 years of being open to all nationalities, all races, and all creeds.” <www.icsglobal.org>
The IMSS is an excellent excursion for the Halloween season as it has skeletons, skulls, an iron lung, prosthetics, plus historical medical tools, that look more like tools of torture than implements of healing. All exhibits are artfully curated to educationally inform and entertain your macabre curiosity. On their Plan Your Visit Website they have Covid-19 regulations, museum directions, and discounted parking sites available with validation. The staff is very friendly, welcoming, and knowledgeable. On our trip there we were fortunate to meet Fall 2020 Artist in Residence delightful, Kioto Aoki, who was a fount of information while she was scanning archaic x-ray plates in the library housing Thorek Manuscripts and the Rare Books Collection. Look for Kioto Aoki’s exhibition in January 2021.
Hours of Operation Monday 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
Tuesday 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
Wednesday 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
Thursday 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
Friday 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
Saturday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Sunday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Adults–$17.00 Seniors (age 65+), Educators, Students and Members of the Military (with ID) $13.00, Children 4-13- $9.00 Members and Children 3 and under free
Pictures Courtesy of: Mairin Hartt, Zoe Beloff and the International Museum of Surgeons