Curious Trends


Pathology and morbid curiosities

The fascination with pathological and morbid medical curiosities in art and design circles seems to be growing. Morbid anatomy museums have become popular places of inspiration and vintage anatomical models have even been seen at interiors trade fairs this year.

Back in July 2007, Miles Goslett first reported in the Telegraph that, “A Colour Atlas of Forensic Pathology, by G Austin Gresham, was the Britart bible, according to Mat Collishaw, the young British artist who came to prominence at the Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1997.” The definitive guide to the science of pathology “was so heavily mined by leading artists in the movement that an octogenarian Cambridge professor can rightly be credited as the unintentional grandfather of Britart.”

The book featured graphic photographs of murder scenes, decomposed bodies, dissected organs and medical instruments. Austin Gresham, an emeritus professor of morbid anatomy and histopathology at Jesus College, compiled the book for trainee pathologists. In the 1980s, Damien Hirst and other artists, including Collishaw and Marcus Harvey, went on to use the morbid work as the starting point for many of their most controversial pieces.

Professor Gresham’s views on gruesome works of Britart that have been sold for millions of pounds is that, "the general public are idiots when it comes to modern art. You can hang up a rat by its tail and call that art and people will believe you. And these artists seem to make a fortune out of it."

Curiously come 2010, young designers are still doing just that. Alex Randall’s Rat Swarm lamp, for instance literally has taximdermy rats strung together at their tails. The controversial piece was first unveiled at New York Design Week in May '10 “to critical (albeit shocked) acclaim” and also caused quite a stir at Tent London. It was reviewed as "The Most Nightmarish Lamp Ever Created" by Susan Labarre of, who added "It's probably the sickest and oddly, one of the prettiest, objects to debut at New York Design Week". Jaime Gross of called it "a seductive mixture [of] repellent and magnetic.”

Add a Comment
Bookmark and Share