Bedlam: The Asylum and Beyond

Wellcome Collection and Library

15 September – 15 January 2015

A survey of the rise and fall of the mental asylum as well as reimagined institutions.

Bedlam has long been a byword for chaos. Now a major exhibition at the Wellcome Collection opens the doors to the historic asylum from which it derives, tracing the rise and fall of the hospital and how it has reflected the changing attitudes of the society around it. Through the lens of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, London, Europe’s first and oldest institution to specialise in mental illnesses, ‘Bedlam: The asylum & beyond’ explores how medicine, art and culture define mental illness and have been shaped over centuries, while also imagining what the future might hold. 

From the early days of the Bethlem Hospital to the modern, post-asylum world in which prescription medications coexist with an increasing array of other therapies and support options, visitors will encounter scenes from successive incarnations of Bethlem, as well as other models of care from elsewhere in the UK and Europe, revealing how each was founded in an optimistic spirit of humanitarian reform, but abandoned as therapies failed and ideas changed.

The exhibition will feature more than 150 objects and archival materials, including art by patients such as Adolf Wölfli, Vaslav Nijinsky and Richard Dadd, alongside works by contemporary artists, including Eva Kot’áková, Erica Scourti, Shana Moulton, Javier Tellez and the ‘Madlove: A Designer Asylum’ project. A new digital commission for the exhibition by Erica Scourti, Empathy Deck, will use an online mood monitor to generate unique tarot cards, each one offering a healing approach, remedy or thought.

Venue information

Opening times

Open by appointment, Mon – Fri, 9.30am – 5.30pm

For details of Bank Holiday closures, please visit Wellcome Library website

"Art Fund" is the operating name of the National Art Collections Fund, a charity registered in England and Wales (209174) and Scotland (SC038331)