At a glance, The Last Tuesday Society may look like a petite, old-timey bar, with jaunty white motifs snaking across a black facade, but passersby should look again: the motifs are actual snakes and trees bearing fantastic fruit. High above the window looking out on Mare street in East London’s Hackney neighborhood is a sign asserting this place is, in fact, a “Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art and Natural History”. Still, not even the unicorn skulls in the window can prepare visitors for the journey awaiting inside.
Beneath a canopy of stuffed game, suspended Fiji mermaids and aquatic beasts, the dim foyer serves as a book-and-curio shop and, yes, a bar. Bottles of absinthe, bourbon and gin flank a massive disassembled lobster, cordials in antique poison vials promise exciting degustatory encounters while a dapper lion in the Spare Room, the world’s only public permanent collection of Austin Osman Spare works, invites to have a seat, grab a book from the library and stay a while.
Sitting down is hardly an option, though, when a spiral staircase beckons down to the enchanted basement where most of the museum collection resides. Five quid will get you in, a sense of humor will get you through.
Forget categories and catalogs, this exhibition is more of a dusty absurdist funhouse curated by an ardent admirer of the stranger universal undercurrents.
Natural anomalies, peculiar art and other human folly are well-represented and loosely organised in stream-of-consciousness displays.
For instance, a gilded rhino skull once belonging to Pablo Escobar shares space with shell-wrapped human skulls once used as currency.
There are cakes shaped like dictators’ heads, rodent dioramas, tin toys, shrunken heads and bones, bones, bones.
There are phallic totems and wet specimens and masks and furbies and highly unusual books and treasures from far-off lands.
And then there’s the traditional art. It’s on absolutely every wall, squeezed between objéts, peeking from behind mounted taxidermy, emerging from the shadows. Cheeky erotic vignettes and scientific illustrations neighbor the likes of Austin Osman Spare (Wynd is an avid collector) and Leonora Carrington, with occasional appearances by England’s favorite prisoner, Charles Bronson, and Wynd himself.
There’s an overarching sense of great romance here, as well, reflected in a display dedicated to dandyism, an entire tiny, gorgeous Gnostic temple, complete with alchemists’ regalia and talismans, and the Lion’s Chamber (available for private hire!), where velvet banquettes surround a sarcophagus table with a glass window to a human skeleton – all under the watchful gaze of a caged lion skeleton and a suspended sea creature.
…And that’s just scratching the surface. With so much to take in and so many cocktails to sample, guests should set aside a minimum of two hours for a visit. Be sure to sign up for the mailing list, as well – The Last Tuesday Society hosts temporary exhibits, exotic petting zoos and life drawing events. There’s an Austin Osman Spare viewing opening tonight, on exhibit until September – I might just see you there!