Wax and Wane:
Permanence and loss in a historical medium
The use of wax as a material substitute for the living body extends back to the funerary rites of ancient Egypt. Emulating flesh to an uncanny degree, wax possesses an eerie sense of depth and vivaciousness when given human form. From votive offerings, to science, novelty, and commercially produced dolls, the wax figure has consistently moved through various forms and functions over time. Almost always, its goal remains the same: to create the illusion of life.
The layered histories of wax remain embedded in the modern celebrity wax museum—one of the few remaining reasons these wondrous figures continue to be produced. While latex, silicone, and CGI have relegated wax to a historical medium in the realm of hyperrealism, the timeless quality of wax, and the fragility and inherent craftsmanship of its figures, continues to enchant.
The Museum of Fear and Wonder collects and preserves fragile waxworks from various defunct museum, medical and novelty collections. Our displays contrast the histories and craftsmanship of these figures, outlining overlaps in the ongoing trajectory of their production, use, and psychological impact. We explore the enduring contradiction of wax's ability to and outlive its human counterparts, while also sharing in their deep sense of material vulnerability.