6 October 2011 to 26 February 2012
Subtitled The Solace of Objects and curated by Felicity Powell, this strange exhibition is the result of the curator’s fascination with the life, work and collection of Edward Lovett, a Croydon-based banker who is now best known (if known at all) for his 1925 book, Magic in Modern London.
Lovett scoured pharmacists and the herbalist shops of London – and any other outlet he could find – in search of the objects sold in response for mainly lower class society’s need for charms, amulets, and folklore superstitions.
Among the objects are a miniature, handwritten copy of the Lord’s Prayer, designed to fit around the face of a sovereign, but there are hundreds of other objects from the mundane (coins inscribed with names) to the obscure (brittle and vulnerable glass seahorses, supposedly to be carried for ‘luck’ – Lovett himself thought that the seahorses originated in Venice, where their influence on fertility was so substantial that, in his view, the prow of the gondola was modelled in imitation of the form.)
Common themes emerge – the acorn to protect against lighning, models of shoes to smooth the path through life – which are both strange and oddly poignant, often without too much in the way of obvious connections. But the idea that London and Londoners were a superstitious bunch at that time, remains. It’s an odd idea, especially as London was at the time a thriving hub of a huge international empire, the trading centre at the heart of a mercantile world. And yet, how much closer to life, death and danger were these individuals, whose insurance policies came not from financial institutions, but perhaps from superstitiously grasping an amulet, or rubbing a lucky charm.
At the heart of the exhibition is The Table, a backlit display of horseshoes and sharks’ teeth, a mole in a bag, a sheep’s heart pierced with nails, coral and other items, arranged on their glowing arc, at once prosaic, baffling, funny and chilling.
The Wellcome Foundation’s exhibitions are free, and their cafe has to be one of the nicest places in London to sit and think about what you have just seen. Take home a book from their imaginative and original bookshop too.
Charmed Life is on in conjunction with Infinitas Gracias, Mexican miracle paintings.
more at www.wellcome.ac.uk
(c) Michael Spring 2011