Press release


Following the success of its recent exhibitions, which have looked at mental health and at identity, Wellcome Collection returns to the subject of the human body for its summer exhibition: ‘Skin’.

The skin is our largest organ. It gives us a vital protective layer, is crucial for our sense of touch and provides us with a highly sensitive and visible interface between our inner body and the outside world. Spots, scars, moles, wrinkles, tans and tattoos: the look of skin can reveal much about an individual's lifestyle, health, age and personality, as well as their cultural and religious background. The skin is also remarkable for its ability to regenerate and repair itself.

The multidisciplinary exhibition 'Skin' takes a predominantly historical approach, beginning with early anatomical thought in the 16th and 17th century when, for anatomists, the skin was simply something to be removed and discarded in order to study the internal organs. The story continues through the 18th and 19th century and approaches its conclusion in the 20th century, by which time the skin was considered to be of much greater significance and studied as an organ in its own right.

The exhibition will incorporate early medical drawings, 19th century paintings, anatomical models and cultural artefacts juxtaposed with sculpture, photography, and film works by artists including Damien Hirst, Helen Chadwick and Wim Delvoye.

The 'Skin' exhibition will be complimented by the 'Skin Lab' which features artistic responses to developments in plastic surgery, scar treatments and synthetic skin technologies, including two newly commissioned works by the artists Rhian Solomon and Gemma Anderson. Visitors are invited to participate in an interactive and sensory experience - experimenting with skin-flap models used in plastic surgery, trying on latex skin-suits or studying biological jewellery.

Skin: 10 June-26 September
Press preview: Wednesday 9 June, 9.30-13.00. A chance to preview the exhibition and meet with the curators. Contact Mike Findlay for details.
Venue: Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE. Admission is FREE.

Javier Moscoso, Research Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Spain and curator of the exhibition comments: "This exhibition focuses on the historical transformation of both the scientific understanding and cultural significance of human skin, plotting it as beliefs, facts and popular mindsets have all evolved. Taking a historical and cultural perspective, the exhibition showcases a range of startling exhibits that will provoke a variety of reactions at different levels by different types of public."

Lucy Shanahan, Wellcome Collection Curator and co-curator of 'Skin' adds: "The last decade has revealed a burgeoning interest and fascination with human skin, particularly among philosophers, writers, artists and designers. Meanwhile, regenerative medicine has seen major advances in the development of artificial skin designed to improve the structure, function and appearance of the body surface that has been damaged by disease, injury or ageing. So there couldn't be a better time to get under the surface of this subject."

The exhibition will be defined by two main sections and two smaller sections:

The first section explores the primary function of skin as a frontier between the inside and the outside of the body, dramatically illustrated by a selection of images and objects from the realms of medicine and art. It looks at flaying, skin removal, skin fragments and the numerous portals that interrupt the skin's surface, either exposing or leading to the body within.

The second section will explore skin as a place where natural, cultural, artificial or supernatural marks inscribe themselves on the body. Human skin provides a living document of transformation, deformity, ageing and illness. It also serves as a canvas where personal and cultural practices of decoration, construction of identity and self-expression are communicated to the world.

The third area looks the sensory nature of skin and the delicate threshold it provides between the public and private self.

The final section will consider the preservation and cultural uses of skin beyond its natural biological life, as well as what the skin reveals about death itself.

Accompanying events programme
To coincide with the Skin exhibition, a lively programme of events will take place in Wellcome Collection. Mostly free, these events include discussions on topics such as how to tackle common skin complaints, the cultural and personal significance of tattoos, as well as a two-day symposium examining nudity in its cultural and historical context.

The full events programme will be announced in April.