Unknown, and Unknowable?

Readers of the blog will know that the Archives and Museum’s recent show at the Bethlem gallery, Unknown and Unknowable?, featured work from the collection by anonymous artists.  In curating the exhibition it was interesting to consider how we respond to art with little or no context, no title or date and no clue, other than our own perceptions, as to what we are ‘supposed’ to see, what it’s about or whether it’s ‘any good’?

There were no titles or attributions for the works in the exhibition; the labels merely represented the thoughts and questions they prompted in the minds of the curators.  Visitors were then invited to record their own reflections, responses and suggested titles for the works on display.

This striking image attracted the most comment:

LDBTH400-Figures Climbing Steps (c.1936) b The way out

Freedom – one step at a time

Slowly crawling out of the depths of despair

Keep going up the slope. Hope is above.

Dante’s purgatorio

Examples of other comments and alternative titles:

LDBTH36-Sketching Class b A Royal Academy Entry

The strange observer

LDBTH321-Figures in Rocky Landscape c Set in stone
LDBTH404-Blue Figures and Rainbows (c.1936) b Angels dancing

Ghostly fairies in the dell

An appeal for help

LDBTH636-Character Sketch IX - Man in Fez Hat b You see my outside self. Only I see my inside self.

This I find the most moving piece in the show.

LDBTH648-Painting with Music I b Prayers before bedtime

Mother love

A perfect night

LDBTH56-Bound Woman in Cellar (c.1937) b Tables turned!
LDBTH662-Naked Girl by Water b Ophelia before
LDBTH613-Figures and Concert b Silent deliberaton

An evening with Dr Smith

Posh gatherings

Before TV

Further reflections from blog readers would be welcome.

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1 Response to “Unknown, and Unknowable?”


  1. 1 Jackie Hopson September 19, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    My response to the fourth painting from the bottom (with the comment “Mother Love” etc) is:

    Please make me safe, Mother.


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