Home Exhibitions The Cult of Beauty

The Cult of Beauty Visual Story

Information to help you plan and prepare for your visit.

Introduction to ‘The Cult of Beauty’

‘The Cult of Beauty’ is an exhibition.

The imposing white edifice of a neoclassical 1930s building. Wellcome Collection building, Euston Road, London, UK.
Source: Wellcome Collection. © Wellcome Collection.

The exhibition is at Wellcome Collection.

Entrance to Gallery 1, Wellcome Collection, London. A modern sweeping staircase is on the left. The glass walls and doors of the gallery are at the back of the lobby area, the information desk is in the foreground on the right.

It is in Gallery 1 on level 0 of the building, on the same level as the entrance, to the left of the Information Desk.

The exhibition started on 26 October 2023.

And finishes on 28 April 2024.

The exhibition is free.

You do not need to book: just turn up.

Visiting Wellcome Collection

For more information about opening times, accessibility and travel, click on the link for the Visiting Wellcome Collection Visual Story here.

About the exhibition

The Cult of Beauty‘ exhibition is about:

• Why we all think about beauty.

• How ideas about beauty are different for different people.

• How the beauty industry is connected to health and wellbeing.

• There are many ways to be beautiful.

This exhibition has three sections.

The Ideals of Beauty is about the shapes that people find beautiful.

The Industry of Beauty is about the business behind beauty products.

Subverting Beauty is about celebrating different ways to be beautiful.

Sensory map of ‘The Cult of Beauty’ exhibition at Wellcome Collection
Wellcome Collection.

Sensory map of the exhibition

What is on display

There are 200 different objects and artworks in the exhibition.

These include: books, videos, paintings and posters, objects, sculptures and photographs.

Sensory and content information

Some of the videos have sound you can hear through speakers.

Some of the videos have sound via headsets and headphones.

Some of the works are on open display but can’t be touched.

One room is scented with perfume.

Some of the works have content that some people may find upsetting. There are warnings on the labels next to these works.

You can see the location of this content on the exhibition map, labelled with an exclamation mark symbol.

Section 1: The Ideals of Beauty

An area in an exhibition space showing images on walls along side objects displayed behind glass. In front of these is a circular dias with classical male and female figures, both standing and a reclining figure on a plinth..
The Cult of Beauty exhibition, Wellcome Collection, photographer: Ben Gilbert, 2023. Source: Wellcome Collection. © Wellcome Collection/ Ben Gilbert, 2023.. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

The Ideals of Beauty is about the shapes that people find beautiful.

Photograph of a gallery view showing two prominent statues. A female figure in white stone on the left and a bronze male figure to the right. Between them, hung on the far gallery wall is a photographic self-portrait by the artist, Cassils.
Central photographic artwork, Advertisement: Homage to Benglis, 2011, Cassils. © Cassils. Statues, Equiline Venus and Idolino. Courtesy of the Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge. Gallery Photo: Benjamin Gilbert. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

‘Venus’ and ‘Idolino’

These figures are copies of Roman sculptures. They are made of plaster. Please do not touch.

An exhibition space with several display areas showing images and objects on vertical sections of wall. In the foreground is a sofa infront of a standalone screen projecting a video of a male figure in motion.
The Cult of Beauty exhibition, Wellcome Collection, photographer: Ben Gilbert. Source: Wellcome Collection. © Wellcome Collection/ Ben Gilbert, 2023.. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

‘An Algorithmic Gaze II’

This is an animated film showing a naked body that changes position and shape.

A display in an exhibition space containing a rope latter made of dark plaited hair suspended from the ceiling. On one wall next to it is a written panel entitled 'Har and community', on the adjacent wall is an artwork showing a large wall with figures on top and at the food and a very long ladder being raised.
We Climb, Artwork: Jennifer Ling Datchuk, 2021 ;photographer: Ben Gilbert. Source: Wellcome Collection. © Reproduced with permission of Jennifer Ling Datchuk.Wellcome Collection/ Ben Gilbert, 2023.. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

‘We Climb’

This is a ladder made of hair and ceramics. It is about racism towards Chinese people. Please do not touch.

Section 2: The Industry of Beauty

An exhibition space showing objects in glass-toped table displays, images and information boards on straight wall panels and suspended infront of curved floor to ceiling curtained walls.
The Cult of Beauty exhibition, Wellcome Collection, photographer: Ben Gilbert, 2023. Source: Wellcome Collection. © Wellcome Collection/ Ben Gilbert, 2023.. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

The Industry of Beauty is about the business behind beauty products.

An exhibition space called 'Beauty Sensorium' containing several large glass vessles filled with liquid and other objects on decorated plinths in the central space with small bottles of liquid suspended on a mobile above them. The walls are covered in overlapping enlarged images of historical artworks and a glass-fronted display case containing several historical artefacts
Beauty Sensorium, Artwork by: Renaissance Goo x Baum & Leahy; photographer: Ben Gilbert, 2023. Source: Wellcome Collection. © Renaissance Goo x Baum & Leahy, commissioned by Wellcome Collection/ Ben Gilbert, 2023.. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

‘Beauty Sensorium

This room is about homemade beauty products of the past. It has sound, smell and sculptures that you can touch.

A table-top in an exhibition space with a caption board in front of it. On the table are instruments and containers used for make-up and beauty products. Sime are designed for accessibility with larger handles and brushes.
The Cult of Beauty exhibition, Wellcome Collection, photographer: Ben Gilbert, 2023. Source: Wellcome Collection. © Wellcome Collection/ Ben Gilbert, 2023.. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

Accessibility and beauty

These beauty products have been designed to be accessible and good for the environment. You are welcome to touch.

A grey stone bust of the head and shoulders of a young male figure with eyes closed and no hair sits on an octagonal plinth. Behind it is a semi-transparent curtain throgh which can be seen a wider exhibition space with images mounted on walls.
The Black Morphew, Artwork by Lauren Bowker, THEUNSEEN, 2023; photographer: Ben Gilbert, 2023. Source: Wellcome Collection. © Lauren Bowker, courtesy of the THEUNSEEN; Wellcome Collection/ Ben Gilbert, 2023.. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

‘The Black Morphew’

This head is painted in a special eyeshadow that sparkles when you take a picture of it on your phone’s camera. Please don’t touch.

Section 3: Subverting Beauty

Subverting Beauty is about celebrating different ways to be beautiful.

A scene from a video plays on a wall in a darkened room with different seats and beanbags scattered around the room. The scene being broadcast is of a black man in an oppulent constume wearing a crown. Behind him is a wall of framed historical European paintings.
Permissible Beauty, Artwork by RCMG/ Soup co. , 2022. ; photographer: Ben Gilbert, 2023. Source: Wellcome Collection. © Reproduced with permission of RCMG, University of Leicester/ Soup Co.; Wellcome Collection/ Ben Gilbert, 2023.. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

‘Permissible Beauty’

This film shows drag-show artists in a royal palace. It is in a dark room, with bean bags on the floor.

An artwork on display on a low circular plinth. The work consists of a dining chair with a mass of clothes, books, pictures and other domestic objects piled pricariously on top of the chair.
(Almost) all of my dead mother's beautiful things, Artwork: Narcissister, 2023; photographer: Ben Gilbert. Source: Wellcome Collection. © Narcissister, 2023. Commissioned by Wellcome Collection.. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

‘(Almost) all of my dead mother’s beautiful things’

This large hanging sculpture in the centre is made up of many objects that belonged to the artist’s mother.

A art installation evoking a nightclub bathroom with images of faces projected on the wall above a long continuous sink in a darkened exhibition space with curtains hanging from the ceiling on either side and a very bright spot light shining  at the top left corner.
Mirror, mirror on the wall: beauty unravelled in the virtual scroll, Artwork by Xcessive Aesthetics, 2023; photographer: Ben Gilbert. Source: Wellcome Collection. © Xcessive Aesthetics, 2023. Commissioned by Wellcome Collection.. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

‘Mirror, mirror on the wall: Beauty unravelled in the virtual scroll’

This room looks like the mirrors in a nightclub bathroom. It has mirrors, bright screens and projections.

Exhibition accessibility

Wellcome Collection.

There are different accessible guides that are available at the start of the exhibition.

The guides are:

Illustrated gallery guide

Large-print guide

Wellcome Collection.

Digital guide

The digital guide has audio described (AD) and British Sign Language (BSL) tours of the exhibition.

Wellcome Collection.

You can watch or listen by scanning QR codes with a smartphone.

Or you can listen to AD by picking up a touch-button handset and pressing the number of the audio stop.

A young woman with shoulder-length brown hair is smiling and looking straight at the viewer. She is dressed in black with a Wellcome Collection logo on her t-shirt.
Source: Wellcome Collection. © Wellcome Collection.

Please ask a member of gallery staff for help with digital guides.

Wellcome Collection.

Text transcripts of audio-only content are also available in the gallery.

Lights Up sessions

We’re providing a series of ‘Lights Up’ sessions during the exhibition.

At a 'Lights Up' session the lights in the gallery will be brighter and more even.

For dates, times and booking information, click on this link.

Relaxed Openings

We’re providing three Relaxed Openings during the exhibition.

At a Relaxed Opening, the lights in the gallery will be more even and there will be fewer people.

For dates and times of Relaxed Openings, and to book your ticket, click on this link.