Wellcome Collection opens new Bedlam exhibition

Wellcome Collection's latest exhibition traces the rise and fall of the asylum and how it has shaped today's mental health landscape.

Installation view of 'Asylum' at Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, 2014

Credit: Eva Kot’átková

Installation view of 'Asylum' at Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, 2014

The exhibition takes the Bethlem Royal Hospital – preserved in popular imagination as 'Bedlam' – as a case study to explore changing attitudes towards mental health care and services.

Over 150 objects and artworks are on display, charting successive incarnations of the hospital building in London, and models of care from elsewhere in the UK and Europe. The exhibition explores the perspectives and experiences of the individuals who lived within Bethlem, and those who set up alternatives to it.

As one of the oldest psychiatric institutions in the world, Bethlem's story "is the perfect focus for Wellcome Collection to explore how medicine, art and culture define mental illness, and the big questions it raises about the individual and society", said guest curator Mike Jay.

The exhibition features patient art from Adolf Wölfli, Vaslav Nijinsky and Richard Dadd, alongside works by contemporary artists, including Shana Moulton, Dora Garcia, Erica Scourti and Javier Tellez.

Other highlights include:

  • Eva Kot'átková's Asylum, which features live performers within a large-scale installation inspired by conversations with psychiatric patients
  • the casebooks of 17th century physician Richard Napier, showing a huge range of treatment options
  • Vincent Van Gogh's only etching, a portrait of his doctor
  • a special commission of The Vacuum Cleaner and Hannah Hull's Madlove: A Designer Asylum – a collaborative project that reimagines the asylum as a safe place to go mad.

Wellcome Collection co-curator Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz said: "At a time when the marketplace of treatment and support options is so broad, but often inaccessible, the exhibition both interrogates and reclaims the idea of the asylum as a place of sanctuary and care."

Bedlam: the asylum and beyond runs from 15 September to 15 January 2017 at Wellcome Collection. 

Find out more about the exhibition in our press release.