Review: “Death, a Self-Portrait” exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, Euston

Screenshot from Death exhibition from the Wellcome Collection’s website

By Paola Bassanese


Richard Harris, the curator of the Death: a Self-Portrait exhibition, started his collection because of his interest in human anatomy. His intention was to show his enthusiasm and passion for collecting unusual objects more than instigating morbid thoughts.


The collection showcases prints, sculptures, paintings and photographs. They are grouped under specific themes, for example the Dance Macabre from the Middle Ages onwards. Some objects and pieces have been chosen for the sheer complexity, skill and artistry like the plasticine 3D installation called Calavera by an artists’ collective called Mondongo based in Argentina. This piece represents how Western culture is trying to literally squash local cultures leaving behind a trail of shanty towns.


Goya prints representing violent death are there to remind us of the horrors of war, while a serene collection of memento mori with various still life paintings and prints draws you in for the beauty of the compositions.


Andy Warhol collages and Mexican Day of the Dead papier mache’ masks coexist thematically together with pictures of Ofrendas or offerings to the departed in Mexico.


Two large scale pieces dominate the exhibition: one is a chandelier made of 3,000 plaster casts of bones and the other is a waxwork with mixed media of a dissected human body.


The exhibition ends on 24th February 2013.