Mutter Museum's 'Spit Spreads Death' unveiled on Facebook

Just in time for what could be a virulent flu season, the Mutter Museum has invited interested viewers to jump into the potentially infectious waters of exhibition creation. 

At 2:30 Tuesday, the museum hosted a Facebook Live event to announce a major exhibition -- tentatively titled Spit Spreads Death and scheduled to open in 2019 -- that will explore the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 in Philadelphia and seek to convey what it feels like when deadly disease strikes half a million people in a city of nearly two million.

In coming weeks and months, the museum will invite the public to follow along in blog posts as the exhibition begins to come together. In May, another online gathering will be held to give an update of where planning for the show has taken its creators. The show is scheduled to open in mid-2019.

The museum has commissioned the British art collective Blast Theory, known for its use of interactive media and the integration of performance, visual art, and digital broadcasting, to create a work of art to serve as a centerpiece of the exhibit, curators announced on Facebook. 

Matt Adams, one of three members of Blast Theory, known for his work in theater and with interactive media, said the exhibition process had just begun and the result remained a mystery. He called the prospect of the exhibit exciting.

In addition to Adams, two guest curators have been brought in to work on the project: Jane E. Boyd, an independent curator based in Philadelphia, and Trevor Smith, contemporary-art curator at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. The project is funded by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.

Mutter Museum officials said they were seeking to engage audiences in new ways, not just through the museum collection. They are also keen on showing how an exhibition is created -- and interpreted by a contemporary artist.

Speaking from the Mutter’s library on South 22d Street, beneath the portrait of late 19th-century surgeon Samuel Gross, curators and artist said they'd work collaboratively to shape both artwork and exhibition and to ensure that all is "fused."

“What we don’t want is, here is the history exhibition and over here is the piece of art,” said Robert Hicks, director of the Mutter library and leader of the collaborative group.

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