Dylan Mortimer, "The Ceiling Can't Hold Us," 2018

Healing, Knowing, Seeing the Body

Sam and Connie Perkins Central Court, 317; Dolph Simons Family Gallery, 316; Estelle S. and Robert A. Long Ellis Foundation Gallery, 315

The human body has the potential to serve as a universal point of connection. The feats the human body can achieve, the wonder it can inspire, and the pain it can endure offer possibilities for uniting us through shared experience. Everyone has a body—one that comes into existence, changes through time, and eventually succumbs to death.

Yet, the body is also individual and intimate, shaped both by cultural context and personal circumstance. It serves as a site of violence and debate, providing visible ways to identify and label difference that can lead to widespread, harmful injustice.

This exhibition explores these complexities and contradictions through works of art from the Spencer Museum of Art’s collection, as well as site-specific commissions and loans from contemporary artists and regional institutions. Together, these diverse pieces reveal the many ways that artists, scientists, healers, and others have come to understand the body through time and across cultural contexts through three interrelated themes. Healing addresses broad topics such as cross-cultural perspectives on illness, aging, and death. Knowing reveals the roles that art can play in expanding knowledge about the body. Seeing highlights the new forms of understanding we generate by observing and visualizing the body. Reinforcing these ideas is the assertion that the unique insights of artists are and always have always been vital to investigating the body.

Our bodies always matter, but they take on an extra layer of relevance right now. As conversations around global health and systemic racism swirl in a divisive political context, this exhibition encourages you to celebrate your unique body and the experiences it holds. It invites you to feel connected to other bodies through time and across space, and to reflect on how we can care for and offer community to one another through art.

This exhibition is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, Mid-America Arts Alliance, the International Artist-in-Residence Fund, the Linda Inman Bailey Exhibitions Fund, Anne and Charles Rhoades, the Andrew W. Mellon Integrated Arts Research Initiative, KU Student Senate, KU Research Investment Council, Spencer Museum of Art Marilyn Stokstad Directorship Fund, Olin K. and Mary Ruth Petefish Museum of Art Fund, Mary P. Lipman Children’s Education Fund, and the Judith M. Cooke Native American Art Fund. Ingrid Bachmann received individual support from Canada Council for the commission Embrace.

Selected images