The human body, if you spend time staring at it, can be a fascinating thing. Countless artists from Leonardo da Vinci to Cindy Sherman have worked to explore not only the human body, but also the situations we choose to put our bodies in.

From the everyday to the fantastic, artists have sought to explore the unique reference that our own bodies create, simply by being such a familiar vessel for transport to our global imaginations.

Gross Anatomies, on view at the Akron Art Museum, is the type of exhibit that explores our anatomy from a more fantastical angle. From the absurd to the more direct reference, this exhibit, drawn solely from a local collection, can be challenging to look at but is also fun, smart and a joy as you walk from piece to piece.

Jason Briggs’ Age is a sculpture made out of porcelain, hair and stainless steel. The work looks something like a tumor melded with the carcass of a giant fly (gross, right?), and it has the color of an old pair of boots or shoes. Of course, the artist is trying to get a reaction out of you, with small voids in the work that you can see into if not through, coupled with the inclusion of hair on the piece.

The Sacrifice is all at once religious and absurd. Included in Hanna Jaeun’s acrylic painting is a crown, a snake and an apple, but also some classic cartoon-like ghost forms and a giant wispy cat head. The strength here is in the artist’s ability to tell a story. It’s impossible to resist creating your own narrative when looking at this painting, the compulsion is that strong.

Ronit Baranga’s Embraced #1  is an anthropomorphized coffee-and-tea set that features fingers coming out of the vessels, reaching and holding on to each other. This work is disorienting and fascinating. The use of a traditional-style coffee and tea set, complete with what might be your grandmother’s pattern, is really smart and helps the piece express its own emotion, making it more unnerving the longer you look at it.

Tomiyuki Sakuta’s intaglio print Dodog has a somewhat ambiguous title, but nevertheless creates a different story for every patron. Looking like a giant-mouthed, double-uvula-toting, four-eyed monster right out of a fairy tale, this work is as mysterious as it is well drawn.

Sakuta’s other work in the exhibit, Marilyse, is a somewhat surrealist study of the human mouth. A ball-shaped head features three mouths that go together a lot like Russian nesting dolls. It has a tension that is hard to place. It could be because too many sci-fi monster movies in the 1980s featured biomorphic monsters with multiple mouths, like Alien. But I believe the artist’s choice of head shape, coupled with the hard lines for the parts of the mouths projecting out of the head, set this work on a different path.

Sharks is Aaron Zimmerman’s very realistic oil painting of a couple talking at the dinner table, if every couple also had sharks’ heads instead of human ones. I think the sharks are great whites, and while it’s hard to tell exactly, I don’t think the couple is arguing; in fact, they could be just about to kiss. However, since they have shark heads, they feel menacing and tense no matter how you think about them. This is another smart piece that uses a familiar setting and situation, then goes about flipping the moment on its ear.

Wellbutrin is hilarious and creepy all at the same time. Wellbutrin is fairly common drug used to fight depression and to help with smoking cessation. In this oil painting, Laurie Hogin has depicted a pink, fuzzy, bunny-faced creature with blue eyes that are staring off to your left as you look at it. It’s a warm-and-cuddly looking thing, but the title suggests that you might need to hug this creature in order to feel better and get through your day.

Exhibits like Gross Anatomies are fun and weird, but that doesn’t make them less valuable. Like visiting the sideshow at a circus, this exhibit features never-before-seen wonders and perhaps creatures and things from faraway lands. What it certainly features is contemporary artwork that really has some popular legs, perhaps an anatomical part worth checking out.

Contact Anderson Turner at haturner3@gmail.com.