TO APRIL 30, 2005

In his 16th-century painting The Ambassadors, goth great-granddaddy Hans Holbein topped off his portrait of two dashing young diplomats with an anamorphic skull. The distortion makes it seem at first like some sort of ornament—until you see it from the right angle, and Holbein’s reminder becomes unmistakable: One of these days, we’re all gonna die. But some of us need less reminding than others. The National Museum of Health and Medicine’s “Visible Skeleton” series of pieces by New York–based artist Laura Ferguson explores this last point. Ferguson, who has scoliosis, worked with orthopedists and radiologists to obtain medically precise images of her unique anatomy, including a 3-D spiral CT scan of her spine. Alongside a display of three preserved scoliotic spines, the exhibition contains 50 of Ferguson’s paintings (Lumbar Vertebrae, Close-Up View is pictured), all done with a smeary palette of oils, bronze powder, and charcoal—a style that doesn’t quite capture the engagement with the human figure and the world that it inhabits so critical to the medically themed work of Holbein or even Damien Hirst. Ferguson’s strength is in her examination of the world of modern medical imagery. Her delicate drawings add nuance to the world of clinically detached illustrations and celebrate bodies that, despite their own distortions, go on with the business of living. The show is on view from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily to Saturday, April 30, 2005, at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, 6900 Georgia Ave. NW. Free. (202) 782-2200. (Bidisha Banerjee)

More from WCP