Published on the ever so amazing Amelia's Magazine.
It’s back but not for long. The Museum of Everything has once again put on one of the most intriguing and eccentric exhibitions in all of London and one not to be missed.
Returning for the third time the Museum of Everything’s simply named Exhibition #3 has been put together with the help of British pop artist Sir Peter Blake. It only opened on the 13th October to coincide with the Frieze art fair and is due to close again at Christmas so get down there quick before it’s gone, I promise you’d be sorry to miss it.
A strange little place, the Museum of Everything can be found tucked away down a back street in Primose Hill next to the local library. However, although small in stature this curious museum will still require a good portion of your morning or afternoon to get round because every little space, spot, and shelf is covered with intriguing things to peer at.
Entering through the colourful striped doorway and paying a voluntary donation to a lady in a small kitsch ticket booth and you may be well on your way to guessing that the circus is the theme this time round. Indeed circus mirrors greet you, transforming you into a giant, a dwarf and…God forbid! someone wider than they are tall! Apt then that round the corner is the ‘gallery of unusual people’ and the beginning of an interesting peek into the world of the carnival and the freak show. The gallery is a selection of historic sideshow memorabilia depicting everyone from bearded ladies and dwarves to a man with the completely smooth appearance (yes! including ‘downstairs’) and webbed feet of a frog. This vast collection of posters and postcards are a “celebration of difference” because “nobody’s perfect”, or at least that’s the idea as Sir Peter Blake himself explains in a video later on.
Giant banners advertising, among other things, “strange little people”, and “the world’s most grotesque creature” are strewn all over the walls in the main hall. Painted by the so-called ‘king of the sideshow banner’, Fred Johnson, his is just one among the many all but defunct crafts that are revered at the Museum of Everything. There’s even a wardrobe door emblazoned with a leopard painted by sign painter Joe Ephgrave, who also painted the iconic drum skin on the award-winning cover of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album that Sir Peter Blake designed.
In fact that’s the really lovely thing about the Museum of Everything, iconic artworks are mixed in without fanfare among work from less known, brilliant, and usually eccentric artists’ - like the embroidery of Ted Willcox. Ted was taught to sew in hospital while recovering from injuries incurred in WW2. He then went on to spend the rest of his life indoors finding inspiration in everything from Alice in Wonderland to pictures of reclining bare-chested beauties, recreating them all in needle and thread.
In many ways the Museum can be viewed as a potted history of Great Britain, though told from a thoroughly left field point of view. Nothing sums this up better than the Walter Potter section, an example of Victoriana at its most bizarre if ever there was one. Cleary no relation to animal lover Beatrix, Walter Potter’s tableaux are made up of stuffed rabbits, a variety of birds, squirrels, rats, frogs, puppies and kittens - all in a surprising range of poses. They are completely grotesque but also fascinating, and of course, today taxidermy is very much back in vogue with artists like Polly Morgan picking up and popularising the ancient craft once again.
The Museum of Everything managed to impart on me the same kinds of feelings that I imagine may have flashed through the minds of the archaic freak show audience. A mix of morbid curiosity, delight in viewing the strange, and a childish excitement over being reminded what a beautiful and odd world we live in. Catch it while the circus is still in town!
Open Wednesday – Sunday, 10.30 am – 6.30 pm until Christmas