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Circus: The Art of the "Strange & Curious"
Nieman Eisman, The Great Marlowe – Strong as a Lion, 1920s, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 feet. Collection of Jim Secreto.

EAST LANSING, MI.-The Kresge Art Museum presents Circus: The Art of the "Strange & Curious", on view through July 27, 2007. Circus: The Art of the "Strange & Curious""Step right up, ladies and gentlemen," called out the sideshow barker. "See a three-legged man, frog boy, people tattooed from head to toe, and lizard man with his forked tongue!"

Huge banners arrayed across tent fronts illustrated these old sideshow wonders, enticing viewers inside to see the "real thing" for themselves. Now tattooing has become quite common, and labeling people as fat or giants or dwarfs is no longer acceptable. And — since modern surgical ways "normalize" most joinings and multiplications of body parts that were once a potential source of income in the circus world and shame in the real one — now the sideshow has all but disappeared. Coney Island's Sideshows By the Seashore is the only survivor, and it has been considerably tamed down.

Historic sideshow banners are now collectors' items and one of the finest collections is right here in Michigan with Jim Secreto. He has kindly lent a selection of them to Kresge Art Museum for exhibition in Circus: The Art of the "Strange & Curious. He is also lending us his beautifully carved and painted wooden scale models of performers and wagons.

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