11 Nov

The Wellcome Collection, London, 6th October 2011-26th February 2012

Charmed Life: The Solace of Objects is a fascinating combination of Powell’s own work and her curated selection from the massive collection of personal amulets amassed by the late Nineteenth/early Twentieth century amateur folklorist Edward Lovett, who clearly had a mad magpie eye to match that of Henry Wellcome himself. Powell’s glowing white horseshoe cabinet displays dozens of these tiny and once cherished objects in drifts of related forms: acorns, claws, boots, arms and legs, and so on.  Some of them are easily imagined being tucked into a pocket or dangling around the neck, to be caressed in secret when the owner felt the need for extra comfort. Others, like the hideous shrivelled mole wrapped tightly in fabric, with just its nose and claws poking out… well, not so much. In any case it’s nice to see Powell sharing and attempting to convey her evident delight in picking through Lovett’s collection.

Powell also works in soft wax on the reverse (i.e. opaque) sides of mirrors to create tiny, detailed cameos whose Wedgewood prettiness clashes with their occasionally macabre content, such as an otherwise disembodied head apparently propelling itself through water or air with whip-like tentacles, or two severed hands accompanied by elegant crimson smears that could easily be their own blood. These are joined in a nearby room by large projections showing time lapse recordings of Powell working on some of these images; a nice video installation in its own right.

Using words like “pretty” or “charming” to describe a contemporary artist’s work may come across as faint praise or a suggestion that the work is twee: the latter of those two words would also be a hideous pun, obviously. Worse even than the punning title of the exhibition itself. But there’s no escaping the fact that I think this show is a charming little thing, modest in its ambitions, with no pretentiousness and no apologies for treating its inspiration with as much respect as one would expect if Lovett were alive to work with Powell in person. Not twee, just a straightforward attempt at an accessible but intelligent exhibition.

PS: My friend Charlie Murphy also currently has some of her work on display in the stairwells of the same building, and it’s worth seeing as well. I’m not going to attempt a review since I’ve already written about her work at length in the book (Text + Work: Charlie Murphy) related to the exhibition that you can buy in the Wellcome’s bookshop.





    […] familiar with this blog will already know I get excited whenever there’s a new exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, and that I find endlessly inspiring the permanent displays of Henry Wellcome’s original (and […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: