Sunday, December 9, 2012

'Death: A Self-portrait'

An unusual exhibition devoted to the iconography of death and also our complex, curious, contradictory attitudes towards the subject takes place courtesy Wellcome Collection in London. Assembled by Richard Harris, a former antique print dealer from Chicago, it's spectacularly diverse in nature, and includes some 300 unique artworks - scientific specimens, ephemera and historical artefacts, from across the globe.

Rare prints by Rembrandt, Dürer and Goya will be displayed alongside anatomical drawings, war art and antique metamorphic postcards; human remains are juxtaposed with Renaissance vanitas paintings and twentieth century installations celebrating Mexico’s Day of the Dead. From a group of ancient Incan skulls, to a spectacular chandelier made of 3000 plaster-cast bones by British artist Jodie Carey, this singular collection, by turns disturbing, macabre and moving, opens a window upon our enduring desire to make peace with death.

Far from inspiring a sense of desolation in you, depression or perhaps worse, the showcase is, in fact, sort of morbidly intriguing. It starts off with various different memento mori - most traditionally a canvas, ‘Still Life with Bouquet and Skull, by Adriaen van Utrecht (1642). There are items that testify to the pleasures of life such as necklace, coins, and fancy drinking glasses) A skull, pocket-watch as well as a wilting flowers bouquet act as sobering, symbolic reminders of the fact that life is short.

Wellcome Collection is a free visitor destination for the incurably curious that explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The venue offers visitors contemporary and historic exhibitions and collections, lively public events, the world-renowned Wellcome Library, a café, a bookshop and conference facilities.

The collection is now housed in the original Wellcome Building (built to Sir Henry's specifications in 1932), which is next door to the headquarters of the Henry Wellcome Trust, his philanthropic legacy. His vision was to create a space to house his collections, where professionals could come to learn more about the development of medicine and medical science.

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