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Unknown, and Unknowable? Bethlem Gallery Exhibition opens 27 July

The Bethlem Gallery invites you to an exhibition curated by staff at Bethlem’s Archives & Museum, opening on Wednesday 27th July 2011. Here is displayed a selection of works by patients of past generations whose names and creative intentions are lost to posterity, and whose artistic visions survive only in their output. The Exhibition has already received interest online, with reports in Unfolded Magazine and Cassone Art.

The exhibition bears haunting witness to that loss:

  • to faces lost in a crowd
  • to faces lost in thought, or bereft of it
  • to faces impervious to, or turned away from, our interrogating gaze
  • to figures held captive to, or struggling to surmount, nameless opposition.

Can their stories ever be told, or will they even be heeded?

Like patient data in epidemiological research or subjects in restricted legal proceedings, these artists remain unknown, but the questions their works raise are insistent. Is anonymity to be craved, or rather recognition? When we have lost our names, have we lost everything?

The name of the artist, the title of the work, the year in which it was created. That's all most galleries put on their captions accompanying artworks on display. Maybe a brief description of the subject of the painting. Everything else is just interpretation, and doesn't belong on a label, does it? But what if the names of the artists and artworks were unknown? What if there was nothing to put on the labels? What if all we were left with was interpretation?

‘Developing Unknown, and Unknowable? has been a fascinating experience,’ says one of the exhibition's curators. ‘The absence of the kind of contextual information usually available – artists’ names, titles of artworks, dates – is an invitation to reflect on the ways of seeing the world offered to us by these rarely shown works. Even if we knew the artists responsible for them, they would still be extraordinarily evocative. As it is, they are utterly compelling.’

The exhibition will run from its opening on 27th July to 19th August 2011, and will include a Saturday opening on 6th August (which will feature, at 12 noon on that day, a brief talk) as well as the normal Wednesday-Friday opening hours. Visitors to the Gallery are also encouraged to explore the Archives & Museum.