Living Replica of Van Gogh’s Missing Ear Is On Display In Germany

June 4, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

The destiny of Vincent Van Gogh’s missing body part has been unveiled! Karlsruhe’s Center for Art and Media is displaying the closest thing we’ve got to the artist’s ear, grown with genetic material from Van Gogh’s actual relatives.

Assertions that this is a perfect replica of Van Gogh’s ear are questionable. The DNA used to create the cells was collected from Lieuwe van Gogh, the great-great grandson of Vincent’s brother, who shares about 1/16th of his genes with the artist. Using this material, cells were generated and then shaped by a 3D-printer to resemble an ear.

The “ear” is being kept alive, suspended in nutritional fluids. Visitors to the museum can speak into it via a microphone, though we highly doubt that this ersatz ear will be able to hear you.

You can talk to the ear. The input sound is processed by a computer using software that converts it to simulate nerve impulses in real time. The speaker remains in soliloquy. The crackling sound that is produced is used to outline absence instead of presence.

Diemut Strebe, the American artist behind this project, wants to get even closer to his Frankenear goal. His future plans include finding female relatives of Van Gogh’s who would posses DNA not found on Lieuwe’s Y chromosome. The exhibit is open until June 6th, so Europeans still have time to marvel at this oddity of modern science. Strebe plans to bring the piece to New York sometime next year.