The Oval Portrait: 16 Case Studies of the Grattan Osteoclast

Exhibition organized for the International Museum of Surgical Science, January 21, 2016 – February 21, 2016; Fall 2014 Artists in Residence. Featuring work by Vesna Jovanovic.


about the exhibition:

“Osteoclasia, or fracture of bone for the correction of rickets and other deformities, may be divided into the manual, in which the bone is broken by the hand, and the instrumental, in which the fracture is produced by some form of apparatus.” (W.J. Walsham, excerpt from “Osteoclasia,” 1891)

Grattan’s osteoclast was one such apparatus used in procedures of this kind. This relatively simple coupling of screws, springs and a stainless steel maw was used to perform dry or “bloodless” surgeries at the turn of the 20th century. The example held by the Museum belonged to Elven Berkheiser who worked in Chicago at the Home for Crippled and Destitute Children in the early 1900s. There, “The Bone Crusher” was used in hundreds of procedures, and is referenced in at least 16 unique cases – in medical literature, or in the form “before and after” photographs. It is such photographs, alongside the brutal osteoclast, that were of particular interest to artist Vesna Jovanovic. In this series of 16 drawings, Jovanovic places an emphasis on the occluded or embedded histories of one of the Museum’s most unsettling collections. For Jovanovic, each case study registers a haunting dissonance between the aseptic treatment of bodies in the medical vernacular and the personal details of the 16 child patients. This dissonance carries into the drawings themselves, where Jovanovic has integrated beautifully rendered children’s playthings (a hobby horse, rag doll, etc.,) with sleek references to the mechanical workings of the osteoclast and spurts of bodily imagery. Using ink spills as the foundation for her carefully detailed work, Jovanovic manipulates nebulous, softly gradated abstractions into finished works as much akin to medical illustration as surrealism. Read about Vesna’s process, and her experience as an Artist in Residence at the Museum on her blog. 

Installation shot of Jovanovic’s capstone exhibition

Installation shot of Jovanovic’s capstone exhibition

Installation shot of Jovanovic’s capstone exhibition