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Unknown, and Unknowable?

Readers of the blog will know that the Archives and Museum’s recent show at the Bethlem gallery, Unknown and Unknowable? nowable? , 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:

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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:

  • A Royal Academy Entry
  • The strange observer
  • Set in stone
  • Angels dancing
  • Ghostly fairies in the dell
  • An appeal for help
  • You see my outside self
  • Only I see my inside self
  • This I find the most moving piece in the show
  • Prayers before bedtime
  • Mother love
  • A perfect night
  • Tables turned!
  • Ophelia before
  • Silent deliberaton
  • An evening with Dr Smith
  • Posh gatherings Before TV

Further reflections from blog readers would be welcome.