Review: Skin @ Wellcome Collection

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They’ve probed the heart and inspected the bones. Now, the Wellcome Collection turn their magpie attentions to the body’s most visible component: the skin.

With the usual mix of science, art and medicine, Skin charts the dissection, decoration, disease, decay and diverse dermatological details through painting, modelling, photography, video and cultural artefacts. Many of the pieces will be familiar to Wellcome regulars, such as the anatomical wax models of Joseph Towne and the withered Peruvian mummy normally displayed upstairs. These are accompanied by some fascinating newcomers – preserved human skin covered in tattoos, a beautiful Roman portrait from the fourth century and vintage educational footage showing the formation of sweat at high magnification.

As always, the diverse mix of exhibits is at times beautiful, at times downright ugly or pornographic. The real highlights are the modern works of art dotted around the room, including a macabre yet spellbinding photo-portrait of a child on the autopsy table and paintings of architectural spaces covered in epidermis. The show lacks a hard scientific edge – a few electron micrographs are recycled from last year’s photo prize, but there’s very little about how the skin actually achieves all those wonderful roles it performs.

You won’t come away disappointed, but somehow this exhibition doesn’t really deliver the same wow factor we’ve come to expect from the Wellcome.

Skin runs at the Wellcome Collection until 26 September. Check out the calendar for associated events.

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