Cadavers Find Your Happy Place at BODY WORLDS Richmond

by | May 27, 2024 | MUSEUM & GALLERY NEWS

There’s a pretty cheeky juxtaposition of themes going on at the Science Museum right now. As you stroll through the BODY WORLDS: The Anatomy of Happiness exhibition, artfully posed cadavers go about their epoxied business with joints or muscle structures peeled back and splayed to give visual access to deeper layers of form and function. There are human remains doing skateboarding tricks, plenty of nerve and arterial webs that have escaped their corporeal forms, and a particularly beautiful, if not macabre, ex-person incorporated into a metal sculpture. Around a dozen or so more flayed or fileted people attend  different kiosks in final repose, quietly explaining joy. 

Amidst all of this memento mori are the information plaques, walls, videos and displays – about, of all things, happiness. The information is thorough, well-presented, seemingly the last thing one is contemplating in the face of such a striking presentation of lovingly preserved human flesh. A first reaction to consider marrying such a visceral presentation with the thing it least likely evokes as a forced infusion would be fair. 

But, what better place to see light than in a void? It is counterintuitive, but it works on an unexpected level. While surrounded by death, you are led to contemplate what makes it fearsome at all. The potential for the cessation of happiness. Depending on your imagination’s or culture’s predictions of afterlife (because none of us know where the other shore of the river Styx is), there is either a greater unknown happiness waiting for you, or cold, unyielding oblivion. Or hell. That one’s up to you, evidently. 

The plaques and information walls take on a deeper importance. How often do we spend more than a few seconds thinking about happiness? When we do, it’s usually about confirmation of a loved one’s happiness, or in the face of an existential interior monologue brought on by an insecurity of its presence.  We compulsively obsess on its opposite, fear. Outside of exhibiting mania, a symptom of several debilitating mental illnesses, joy is fleeting. Happiness is hard to find. This BODY WORLDS exhibit not only gives you reasons why this is, it also breaks down biologically, what it is. There are no ‘lessons’ per se to learn here, but even the welcoming video at the foyer of the hall has some deeply thought-provoking information on the subject. 

BODY WORLDS has been a very successful and uniquely compelling string of productions conceived by Dr. Gunther von Hagens after he created the plasticization process used to replace fluids and halt decomposition in the body. He started a body donation program in 1982 that has had no shortage of detractors and allegations of scandal. After quieting outcries with an appropriately transparent donation/collection process, he and Dr. Angelina Whalley co-founded the first exhibit in Los Angeles, at the California Science Center. This original exhibition toured all over the world with subsequent incarnations bearing different themes drawing crowds for nearly 20 years. BODY WORLDS has featured in films like Casino Royale and in CBS’ The Big Bang Theory

This edition of BODY WORLDS makes its debut in Richmond for its opening in the Americas. It’s an honor to get to see it here first, one that the world-class staff and curators at the Science Museum of Virginia truly deserve. The balletic bodies and their appeals to your understanding of contentment will be with us, right here on Broad Street, all Summer. Go check it out. It’s weird.  

More information can be found HERE

Christian Detres

Christian Detres

Christian Detres has spent his career bouncing back and forth between Richmond VA and his hometown Brooklyn, NY. He came up making punk ‘zines in high school and soon parlayed that into writing music reviews for alt weeklies. He moved on to comedic commentary and fast lifestyle pieces for Chew on This and RVA magazines. He hit the gas when becoming VICE magazine’s travel Publisher and kept up his globetrotting at Nowhere magazine, Bushwick Notebook, BUST magazine and Gungho Guides. He’s been published in Teen Vogue, Harpers, and New York magazine to name drop casually - no biggie. He maintains a prime directive of making an audience laugh at high-concept hijinks while pondering our silly existence. He can be reached at

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