The installation is absolutely worth seeing, although the experience itself is less than ideal. Far too many people being ushered through simultaneously. Most of the time slots sell out at the show in St. Paul, despite the fact they are selling as many tickets as people could physically fit in the space.
While part of what makes the show disturbing is the fact that every piece you're seeing is a dead body that has gone through a process known as 'plastination' (invented by von Hagens, plastination takes real human bodies & body parts, fills them with plastic, allows them to be molded into various poses, and then hardens them, allowing the bodies to be preserved for up to 10,000 years, according to von Hagens), the question of why all of these people pay so much to see the exhibit is, for me at least, equally disturbing. Surely von Hagens' works would not receive nearly so much attention if he used exact plastic replicas of every body part. What makes people flock to it is the fact that death is truly present in the halls.
Questions have also been raised about whether the fact that von Hagens is German complicates the morality of experimenting and displaying bodies in such a manner. While i do think this is a valuable and interesting question, i'm more interested in the question of just what von Hagens is up to. His figures are displayed in a variety of life-like poses, with accompanying text explaining that the poses allow for a better understanding and illustration of the body, which is to some extent true, but does not necessarily extend to the chess board, basketball, or top hat that the bodies have with them. The exhibits are lit artfully and position mirrors and other reflective surfaces strategically to maximize aesthetic effect. Though von Hagens constantly calls his work science, with its aim to facilitate a better understanding of the human body for all people, i think his work is as much an art exhibit as it is a science lesson.
In the end, i guess, i don't necessarily have a judgement about this last thought. I have no problem with art, with using corpses as art, or with mixing art and science into one impressive performance, but the installation poses a lot more questions than just 'what's it look like if you take somebody's skin off?' I highly recommend the exhibit to anyone who has a chance to see it, but if you miss it this time around, don't worry, they'll be around for a while.