An exhibition about death

Death, like taxes, the old adage suggests, is an unavoidable consequence of life, except perhaps if you’re immortal, or a football manager with imaginative fiscal arrangements.

Marcos Raya. Untitled (family portrait: group), 2005
In The Eyes of Others, 2009

Now death will be celebrated like life itself in a new exhibition by The Wellcome Collection, entitled simply Death, focusing on ‘our complex and contradictory attitudes towards it,’ organisers say.

Marcos Raya. Untitled (family portrait: group), 2005
Detail of In the Eyes of Others, 2009

The Wellcome Collection has brought in 300 exhibits, which explore the macabre across thematic rooms.

Skeleton Puppet
Skeleton Puppet

Section Contemplating Death is a cheery look at our own view of mortality, taking in works by the likes of Warhol, van Utrecht, and Mapplethorpe along with netsuke miniatures, and porcelain bronze and ivory skulls.

Skeleton Puppet
Marcos Raya. Untitled (family portrait: group), 2005

The Dance of Death looks at ‘the levelling universality of death’ say organisers and includes an exhibit on the medieval Danse Macabre, a popular jig during a time blighted by plague, famine and war.

Skeleton Puppet
Tete de Mort postcard, c.1900

 This section also takes a look at the recurring entwined skeleton leitmotif from Tibetan Chitipati art, death itself scything through crowds in a James Ensor engraving, and as depicted perched melancholically on a table in  June Leaf’s contemporary sculpture.

Skeleton Puppet
Tibetan carved wooden mask, 19th Century

Violent Death asks how we should respond to art that bears witness to atrocity and horror. It takes a voyeuristic look at the liminal space between life, death, sexuality and pain.

Skeleton Puppet
La Grande Danse Macabre des Hommes et des Femmes

Think nudes and corpses in the same frame, death interrupting the embrace of lovers and amorous couples reimagined as skulls.

Skeleton Puppet
Mahkala Mongolia, c.18-19 Century

The final section Commemoration looks beyond the grave to the ritualistic practices of mourning and burial where the stories of Pacific Island grave guardians, Aztec rituals, and American photographs of people posing with deathly props have all been exhumed for your ungainly pleasure.

Detail of In the Eyes of Others, 2009
The Skull Series; number 8 of 12 – Mondongo Collective

Death: The Richard Harris Collection runs from 15 November 2012 to 28 February 2013 at Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, NW1

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