Let's talk about sex, baby. The Wellcome Collection, which has regularly had to put up notices warning sensitive souls about the graphic nature of its exhibitions, will re-open in November with its most eye-popping show to date – devoted to human sexuality and the scientists who have studied it.
In the past, visitors have toppled over like ninepins at exhibitions including the heart and the brain – both with unblinking film of surgery – and one on historic models of medical conditions, where the most gruesome were displayed behind velvet curtains.
This time many of the objects will come from the enormous erotica collection accumulated by
The exhibits will include paintings, films, carvings, prints and photographs of sex in every conceivable (and many inconceivable) positions, plus centuries of sex toys, and terrifying objects such as the early 20th-century spike-rimmed penis rings intended to discourage masturbation, or helpful instructions suggesting a punctured diaphragm could be repaired with a patch "from a bicycle tyre-mending outfit".
Some, including a hand-tinted photograph of a masked man strikingly dressed in a pink tutu, and another of a moustachioed guy wearing nothing but stockings and a corset, came from the collections of Richard von Krafft-Ebing, the German psychiatrist whose studies of human sexual behaviour popularised the terms "sadist" and "masochist".
The exhibition will also look at the work of
Wellcome's interest in sex was well known: the archives include a letter from a Major RG Gayer-Anderson in 1943, offering "a quite small collection of pornographic Greco-Roman pieces that have been carefully chosen and are of good workmanship".
He added: "I wonder has your museum a private room for such objects?"
A spokesman for the Wellcome said the generous gift was apparently accepted, even though the major artlessly revealed that "the British and Victoria and Albert museums, Fitzwilliam, Ashmolean etc" had all said thanks but no thanks.
The Wellcome Collection only opened its present museum six years ago, but has been a victim of its own success: it expected about 100,000 visitors a year, but received more than 500,000, swamping the facilities by the time it closed for a £17.5m rebuild.
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