Monthly Archives: November 2012

Wellcome Collection opens ‘Death’ Exhibition

Wellcome Collection’s major winter exhibition ‘Death: A self-portrait’ showcases some 300 works from a unique collection devoted to the iconography of death and our complex and contradictory attitudes towards it.

Assembled by Richard Harris, a former antique print dealer based in Chicago, the collection is spectacularly diverse, including artworks, historical artefacts, anatomical illustrations and ephemera from across the world.

Rare prints by Rembrandt, Dürer and Goya are displayed alongside anatomical drawings, war art and antique metamorphic postcards; human remains are juxtaposed with Renaissance vanitas paintings and 20th-century installations celebrating Mexico’s Day of the Dead. This singular collection looks at our enduring desire to make peace with death.

Over five themed rooms, the exhibition investigates the value of art in evolving ideas about death and the body. Contemplating Death explores the pressing of our own mortality upon us, through memento mori that range across media and centuries to include works by Warhol, van Utrecht and Mapplethorpe, together with exquisite netsuke miniatures and porcelain, bronze, and ivory skulls.

The Dance of Death focuses on the levelling universality of death. Death appears in various guises: triumphant at the head of a procession, as a benign skeleton playing a violin, as friend, enemy and lover, scything through crowds in James Ensor’s fin-de-siècle engraving, and perched sadly on a table in June Leaf’s delicate contemporary sculpture.

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