23 November 2011

Exploring the Wellcome Collection

The Wellcome Collection describes itself as A Free Destination for the Incurable Curious. And that sounds like me.

I had been there before. I used to work more-or-less across the road from it and did pop-in on a couple of lunchtimes but then the collection had to compete with the need to buy some food and the desire to stretch the legs in pastures new.

So, perversely, my first proper delve in to the collection was on a day's holiday rather than on one of the many days that I worked nearby.

The visit started well. The entrance is open and bright like it really wants you to come in. There's a nice posh cafe at the top of the stairs where I had a reasonable latte and a stunning carrot cake.

From there you get an excellent view of the Antony Gormley stuck to the ceiling above the entrance.

There are two temporary exhibitions on currently. One, Felicity Powell - Charmed Life:

The objects, are, as the name suggests, a collection of medical charms. These are interesting but are hard to photograph because they are small, under glass and the no photography rule is enforced by cctv cameras and strolling staff.

The rule was much easier to forget/avoid in the other exhibition, Infinitas Gracias: Mexican miracle paintings.

I had absolutely no interest in this before I went because of the religious aspect but the incurably curious got the better of me and I found it compelling.

The collection is of painting, and other tributes, posted on churches in Mexico to give thanks to some miracle.

These miracles include getting better in hospital and only being hacked half to death rather than killed.

But if you forget the cynicism over the messages on the pictures and see them just as cultural and artistic objects then there is much to appreciate.

The two things that I found most interesting in the pictures were the range of things that thanks were given for and the artistic merit of the pictures.

At the top-end there were pictures commissioned from professional artists giving thanks for children surviving serious illness and at the other there were stick-men giving thanks for a nice cup of tea. OK, not quite that but you get the point.

Moving upstairs is the Medicine Man exhibition that shows some of the many objects collected by Henry Wellcome.

This is weird.

I quite liked the models that show how the body is constructed but was less impressed by the metal instruments used to cut that body apart.

There are jars, charms, paintings, prosthetics and then it gets stranger with things like very small models of people having sex.

Probably not for the prudish or the squeamish but ideal for the incurably curious.

The Wellcome Collection is unusual, quirky and unpretentious, which makes it my sort of place.

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