He bears a passing resemblance to the Grim Reaper, the dead are his business and the media even calls him "Doctor Death." His Body Worlds exhibition of human bodies and animals -- preserved and displayed in often bizarre poses in a method he invented and calls plastination -- has been seen by over 30 million people around the world.
But this week, Gunther von Hagens, 65, will be attracting attention at home in Germany, where he is set on Friday to reopen a plastination facility and exhibition in the town of Guben in the eastern German state of Brandenburg. More controversially, von Hagens' Plastinarium will also be selling some of Dr. Death's work in what German tabloids have dubbed a "supermarket for bodyparts" and a "cabinet of horrors."
The Body Shop
Like some macabre charcuterie, von Hagens' "Plastinat Shop" will feature transparent silicon "slices" of everything from humans to ducks to giraffes and crocodiles. The price tag on a slice of a human head is a lofty 1,500 ($1,838), and a cross-section down the length of a human body is even dearer -- going for 10 times that. He is also expected to open up an online shop for those with no time to travel to a remote eastern German town in search of body art. For the squeamish, full-sized color photos are available.
Von Hagens has always argued that his plastination work serves an educational purpose, saying his work is a "valuable contribution to medical education, elucidiation and promoting better health." Indeed, his website says that only medical professionals and professors will be allowed to buy the prepared human slices available in the gift shop. Conditions of use are also attached to the filets of fauna on offer.
Still, critics see in him a man who exploits the dead and violates human dignity. His exhibitions have even gone so far as to depict plastinated bodies of a man and a woman copulating.
The plastinater came forward with plans to open the shop two years ago, but he temporarily withdrew them following criticism from his employees, people who wanted to donate their bodies for use in his Body Worlds exhibition as well as religious groups.
Rainer Alfs, the canon of the Catholic Essen cathedral, accused von Hagens in 2008 in an interview with the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung of exploiting the dead to make money. He described the planned body shop as a "sublime form of cannibalism, paired with macabre voyeurism." He said von Hagens had the "cheapest instincts" and is "violating human dignity."
Von Hagens has frequently responded to his critics by stating that "the dead have no souls."
dsl -- with wires
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