Wellcome Collection is one of the best museums in London: they hold large blockbuster exhibitions that dip into a small section of Henry Wellcome’s collection, easily one of the largest private collections that has ever existed.
Wellcome was interested in human health and medicine with his ultimate aim: to create a museum than spanned all of human civilization. Over his life he acquired a collection so large that later generations of staff took to describing its contents by the tonne. After his death in 1936 his collection was still stored in vast warehouses, unseen and incomplete. It would take the Wellcome Trust until 2007 to open the museum to the public and display a fraction of Henry’s objects.
With an infinity of objects, the Collection’s exhibitions are usually incredibly dense, with normal visits lasting three or more hours. To regulars, the first thing you will notice is the sparseness of the space for Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?
The experience is swift and quick with visits peaking at around an hour, and sections centred around topics like persuasion, education, hospitalisation and contagion. Objects are given vast spaces, and this may be in part because almost all are printed: advertising posters, photos, pharmacy bags, stamps, a 17th Century lift-the-flap book.
Highlights include a particularly fascinating display on Saatchi & Saatchi’s advertising campaign for Silk Cut cigarettes and an image of artist Stephen Doe painting symptoms of Ebola on a wall, to inform citizens during the height of the 2014 outbreak in Liberia.
It would be interesting to ask the curators if they set out to persuade with their exhibit, or whether they assumed, like I did, that the answer to their question was yes. Normally, the Collection’s exhibitions really challenge your perceptions and present you with an experience that allows for deeper exploration of what it means to be human. Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? feels like Wellcome-lite. It has good content but doesn’t pack that signature emotive punch. But the key to great design is not noticing how well it works; have I been duped? I think not.
_Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? is on at Wellcome Collection until 14th January 2018. _