Smoke & Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic @ Wellcome Collection - Review

September 05, 2019

Who doesn’t love magic? We certainly do having just been to The Illusionists last week and now an exhibition on illusion this week. What could be better than that?

The Wellcome Collection is one of the best venues for events in all of London. Located in the heart of central London, just a stone’s throw from Euston, it houses a number of excellent events spaces amidst its extensive museum and library. But we weren’t in attendance for an event last Saturday, instead deciding to pop by and take in an entertainment-related exhibition instead.

Smoke & Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic has been open for a number of months at the Wellcome Collection and closes within a few weeks. Because we’ve been so busy, we just haven’t been able to pop by until now but if you have even a passing interest in the history of magic then we strongly urge you to visit the museum, enjoy the café and take in the exhibition for yourself.

Featuring a host of superb videos from the early 1900s right through to the present day (we guarantee that you will be fooled), Smoke & Mirrors allows us to see just how magic has developed from the last 19th century through to the likes of Derren Brown today. Featuring gorgeous posters from magic legends like Carter the Great, Maskelyne & Cooke (who had a 31 year run of their show in Piccadilly!) and Harry Houdini, this is a visual feast for art and magic fans alike. You’ll even get to see Tommy Cooper’s stage notes and fez!

Mentalism is a particular strongpoint of the exhibition with ESP cards, archived cards from a BBC Radio Times experiment (encouraging readers to guess ten cards that were shown on screen and write in with their mindreading ability) and various mindreading props or posters for old performances from famous acts of the day.

A particular focus of Smoke & Mirrors is also based around séances and Margery Crandon, a spiritualist whom even Conan Doyle believed could talk to her dead brother. Houdini was sceptical and the result was a fascinating-sounding rivalry between the two until the world’s most famous magician was eventually proven right when a thumbprint purported to be from the deceased matched the thumbprint of Margery’s dentist.

In truth, this is a hugely interesting exhibition and for those interested in the science of magic and misdirection, and how our mind can be completely bamboozled by a magician, we highly recommend you giving it a go. Featuring a huge, vintage prop for sawing somebody in half, there is surely something for everyone and we feel the Wellcome Collection has really outdone itself with its fab curation.

Smoke & Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic is on at the Wellcome Collection until 15th September. If you’d like to know more, please visit the exhibition page here.



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By Henry Fosdike