New gallery at Wellcome Collection to explore what it means to be human

  • Turner Prize-winning arts and architecture collective Assemble to design new gallery
  • Display revamp will explore trust, identity and health in a changing world
  • Replaces ‘Medicine Now’ display, which closes after 12 years and nearly 2 million visits

In September 2019, Wellcome Collection will open a permanent exhibition space presenting a fresh approach to health, science, art and medicine. The display will draw on diverse perspectives and personal stories from artists, activists, clinicians and researchers to challenge how we think about ourselves, each other and the world around us. The gallery space will be designed by arts and architectural collective Assemble.

Situated in the heart of the building, the display will explore what it means to be human in the 21st century, from our hopes and fears about new forms of medical knowledge, our perceptions of ourselves and each other, and our impact on the environment.  

Organised thematically, it will explore challenging questions around difference, stigma and how we can feel emotionally engaged in global challenges of our time, such as climate change and infectious disease. Featuring artworks from around the world, the gallery will include new commissions and significant artworks from well-known and emerging contemporary artists. 

Alongside the artworks, there will such objects as a jukebox of contemporary songs about epidemics, a DNA sequencer smaller than an iPhone, and a Friendship Bench – an intervention developed in Zimbabwe, which is transforming mental health across the world by taking counselling outside the clinic. The gallery is designed as an inclusive space that will engage a range of senses, including touch and smell.

The new gallery will be designed by multidisciplinary and socially focused collective Assemble, who work across architecture, design and art. Founded in 2010, they have delivered a diverse and award-winning body of work on a variety of scales, with a democratic and cooperative working method.

Clare Barlow, Project Curator, Wellcome Collection, said: “There is no single way to be human, and we have many complex thoughts and feelings about our bodies, our identities and our impact on the world and on each other. The objects we’re bringing together in this new display will explore a wide range of perspectives – from artists, activists, researchers, disabled people and people with diverse experiences of health. It’s exciting to be collaborating with Assemble to tell a more person-centred story through inclusive design and a handmade aesthetic.”

Joe Halligan, Assemble, said: “It’s fantastic to be involved in the design of a new gallery at Wellcome Collection in London. We’re going to use natural materials, colour and inclusive design to create a humane and uplifting space where challenging conversations can happen, and where a wide variety of different visitors feel welcomed. The permanent exhibition will tackle some of the most critical subjects of our times, questioning what it means to be human today. We’re very excited for everyone to see it.”

Wellcome Collection is also working with an advisory panel of senior scientists and an advisory group organised in collaboration with the University of Leicester’s Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, who bring expertise in disability. Throughout, the gallery will use a social model of disability to reframe the way objects and stories are presented. This approach focuses on the barriers in society that restrict access, rather than on individual differences between minds and bodies.   

Rosie Stanbury, Head of Public Programmes, Wellcome Collection, said: “In a society more siloed than ever, it’s vital that we inspire our audiences to think differently about health if we’re to make real change. We know that museums – particularly medical museums – can be alienating for underrepresented groups. I hope this display at Wellcome Collection will do the very opposite and set a precedent for a new and more inclusive approach.”

Since it opened in 2008, Wellcome Collection has become known as the free museum and library for the incurably curious. The new displays will replace the ‘Medicine Now’ exhibition, which, after 12 years and almost 2 million visits, will close on 22 April 2019 in order for work to begin. The new displays will open in September 2019, with further information available in late spring. They follow an ambitious transformation project, which in 2015 saw the transformation of Wellcome Collection’s Reading Room, additional temporary exhibition space and improved facilities for visitors. 

For press information please contact: Kate Moores, Lead Media Manager, Wellcome Collection | T +44 (0)20 7611 5713 | E k.moores@wellcome.ac.uk | W wellcomecollection.org/press

 

Notes to editors

Assemble is a multidisciplinary architecture and design studio. They practise a hands-on, collaborative approach to making spaces that support creativity and the active participation of people in cities. The social focus and impact of their work was recognised when they won the Turner Prize in 2015 for their network of neighbourhood projects created with the residents of Granby, Liverpool.

Following their foundational self-built project in 2010, the Cineroleum in Clerkenwell, the studio has created a diverse body of work focused on cultural, residential, workspace and public-realm projects. They were commissioned by Goldsmiths, University of London, to transform former industrial spaces into Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, which opened in September 2018.

Assemble are based at Sugarhouse Studios, Bermondsey, a studio and workshop space they established, which supports a diverse creative community or designers, producers and artists.

www.assemblestudio.co.uk

 

The Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) at the University of Leicester is a world-leading research centre that works collaboratively with cultural institutions to explore how they can ethically engage diverse communities and stimulate and inform public debate around contemporary social and political concerns.  

www.le.ac.uk/rcmg

 

Wellcome Collection is the free museum and library for the incurably curious. Inspired by the medical objects and curiosities collected by Henry Wellcome, it connects science, medicine, life and art. Through its exhibitions, live programming, and digital and publishing activity, it makes thought-provoking content that aims to challenge how we think and feel about health.

Wellcome Collection is part of Wellcome, which exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive. We support researchers, we take on big health challenges, we campaign for better science, and we help everyone get involved with science and health research. We are a politically and financially independent foundation.

www.wellcomecollection.org