New exhibit brings blog to life

By Luke Wilusz

In a building full of bone saws, scalpels, antique X-rays and other artifacts from the bygone days of medical history, an art gallery is the last thing one might expect to see. However, that’s not to say it feels out of place. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a better home for Vanessa Ruiz’s “Street Anatomy” exhibit.

The exhibit debuted Sept. 3 with an opening reception in the fourth-floor gallery of the International Museum of Surgical Science, 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive, as part of the museum’s “Anatomy in the Gallery” program. “Street Anatomy” features artwork previously shown on Ruiz’s blog of the same name, which covers portrayals of anatomy and medical science in works of contemporary art.

“I think it’s fascinating for people—especially human anatomy because we all share that, right?—and I think people are only used to seeing that in an educational realm,” Ruiz said. “Seeing it outside of that context and seeing what different artists do with that is, I think, the most fascinating thing, just taking it out of the textbooks and putting it onto street art, fashion, interior design. There’s so much you can do with it, and it’s all relatable.”

Ruiz, who received her master’s degree in medical illustration at the University of Illinois at Chicago and currently works as an art director for a pharmaceutical advertising agency, has always been fascinated by the intersection of science and art. She’s been running the “Street Anatomy” blog for three years and was looking for a chance to bring it out of the digital realm.

“Every three months, [the International Museum of Surgical Science does] a rotating exhibit [for] exhibiting artists who use anatomy in their work,” Ruiz said. “I contacted the museum director there, and she had read my blog before, so she was like, ‘I would love to have you do an exhibit.’ So it was a perfect opportunity.”

Lindsey Thieman, manager of exhibits and programs at the International Museum of Surgical Science, said the “Anatomy in the Gallery” program has run since 1998. The goal of the program is to provide a contrast to the largely clinical and scientific feel of the rest of the museum.

“A lot of our other exhibits are more educational or didactic, but we don’t want you just to learn about how medicine developed,” Thieman said. “We’d also like you to think about medicine and how it relates to your life and the human condition in general. ”

Alexis Steinmetz, a graduate student working on her master’s in medical science at Loyola University, visited the exhibit out of a similar fascination with both science and the arts. She said more medical students and science-minded individuals should see the exhibit to get a new perspective on their fields of study.

“I like that people put their own twist on anatomy and make it interesting at the same time, so people who are learning about anatomy and care about it can see it in more interesting ways,” Steinmetz said.

Despite dealing with typically morbid imagery, many of the works on display reflect a sense of humor, such as Jason Freeny’s “Micro Schematic,” which features a meticulously detailed anatomical diagram of the skeletal, circulatory, digestive and reproductive systems of a plastic Lego figure.

“I think it’s important to be lighthearted about it because when people see skulls or skeletons, it’s kind of that trigger that’s like, ‘Oh, this is death, this is reminding me of something I don’t want to think about,’” Ruiz explained. “But you have to be confronted with it anyway, so I think putting a lighthearted tone on it is the perfect balance to putting anatomy or any sort of deathly imagery into artwork.”

Ruiz said one of her goals is to get scientists and doctors thinking more artistically, and artists thinking more scientifically.

“I think a lot of people are afraid,” she said. “I think artists are afraid of thinking logically or doing math, and I think people who are scientific are afraid to be creative … I think bridging those two, especially for your mind, is a great exercise because you use both halves.”

“Street Anatomy” opened Sept. 3 and runs through Nov. 19 at the International Museum of Surgical Science, 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive. For museum hours, visit