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William Morris Gallery and Death at the Wellcome Collection: a review

November 30, 2012

William_Morrisflipdeath at the wellcome2 I popped down to London this week to see 2 galleries that are displaying two men’s works.  The William Morris Gallery in Walthamstowe and Richard Harris’s death collection at the Wellcome Collection by Euston.  Both exhibitions have been influenced by their benefactors, despite William Morris’ death over a 100 years ago his legacy exherts a strong influence, while Richard Harris, a current antique dealer, has allowed his collection to be placed on display by the Wellcome Trust.

The William Morris Gallery was a donation to the local authority, and lies in deepest zone 3 of north east London.  A Lottery grant has enabled the museum to be refurbished providing improved physical and intellectual access to the man and his works.  Despite this the visitors on the day of my visit did not reflect the local population.  The museum building is a grade 2* listed building and now has the obligatory cafe, shop and lift.  Each room tells an aspect of Morris’s life, from his upbringing, early works with the Pre-Raphaelites through to his interior design business.  His legacy and association with socialism is explored upstairs.  The feel of the space is between a National Trust property and a progressive design museum.  The displays use new technology and audio visual to aid the the telling of the story, all working when I visited!  Although the displays still largely use Arts and Crafts works, varying from prints, designs, photographs and furniture.

Death: A Self Portrait, the temporary exhibition at the Wellcome Collection is located in the modern buildings of the Wellcome Trust, on the edge of the UCL campus in central London.  The audience reflects the university nieghbour, and was busy when I visited.  The exhibition divided the subject into several broad themes, the dance of death, violet death, commeroration and so on.  These complex and wide ranging themes are covered by dense text on the walls and booklets in dimly lit rooms.  The objects, a mix of prints, photographs and conceptual art was simply displayed with no new technology to be seen.  It does help when you have Otto Dix and Goya prints on display.  The works were displayed as art, letting the viewer make their own connections with minimal labelling.  The two different approaches to display reflect the ownership of the two galleries.  One a local authority keen to make a Victorian designer and socialist relevant to its constituents and the other, a major scientific trust that is largely acadcemic orientated.  In both cases I reccomend viewing both exhibitions.

The William Morris Gallery is in Lloyd Park, Forest Road, Walthamstow, London, Greater London E17 4PP and open Wednesdays to Sundays and Death: A Self Portrait exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE is open Tuesdays to Sunday until the 24 February 2013, both have free admission.

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