Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Death’s Self Portrait


My monitor from the TSB had suggested we hold our quarterly progress review at the Wellcome Museum, near Euston station in London.  I’d never visited the collecton, but it sounded like a good place to share a coffee and a few stories.

The banners over the entrance were ominous: Death, a Self Portrait.  A Gormley-esque statue hung from the ceiling; a pale body lounged alongside the door.  Creepy.

“I hope this isn’t a portent,” I smiled shaking hands.  it wasn’t, fortunately.


The exhibit, free at the Museum through the end of February near King’s Cross, ponders how different societies and times face mortality through art and media.  There’s a lot of variety in the depictions of Death, in how artists try to understand and overcome the idea that man’s life, everyone’s life, simply ends.  Representations tend towards skeletons of all sorts (skulls seem to be a particular favorite), and there’ an underlying current of fear and revulsion everywhere.  It’s a paradox of inevitability wrapped in disbelief, bravado in the face of defeat, everywhere. 

It’s well worth stopping in, although I may not be appropriate for younger visitors.  There’s also a good coffee shop and a wonderful bookstore.

Upstairs, the History of Medicine museum has a fascinating array of historical instruments and apparatus, and a smaller exhibition focused on obesity.  The Isaacs sculpture, I can’t help the way I feel, an awkward mountain of  overgrown and erupted flesh, is as creepy in life as any depiction of death downstairs.


Invader_Stu said...

The giant skull city carving is amazing. A lot of work must have gone into that.

David Hampton said...

Hi Stu, and thanks! It's surprisingly large (about 5 ft tall) and very well sculpted. It works both from a distance and up-close: it was the most striking (or at least, one of the less gross) parts of the exhibition. 'worth a visit if you are through St. Pancreas.