The Wellcome Collection near Euston has some pretty good exhibitions, and the most recent is no exception. Bedlam: The Asylum and Beyond looks at the idea of the asylum, what it represented and what it became, and asks if the idea could be reclaimed.
An asylum was originally a space, usually religious, where an individual could seek refuge or sanctuary. Modern mental asylums emerged from this concept. As the word ‘Bedlam’ became synonymous with ‘asylum’, it seems appropriate to focus on the original Bedlam, the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, which was founded in the thirteenth century and still exists today.
The exhibition looks at the history of asylums, with drawings, photographs and autobiographical accounts from Bedlam in particular but also from asylums in Europe, as well as the Retreat in York which pioneered more “humane” treatment of the insane. It also contains artworks, videos and films about asylums and insanity, many made by more modern commentators.
The exhibition ends with a representation of an “ideal” modern asylum and invites the viewer to comment on what they think makes a good asylum. It leaves you with a lot to think about.