Smoke And Mirrors: The Psychology Of Magic At The Wellcome Museum


April sees the arrival of the new exhibition Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic at London’s Wellcome Museum, looking at the connections between stage magic, illusion, fraudulent supernatural activity and psychology.

The exhibition will cover three themes:

The Séance explores the  curious explosion of séances, spiritualism and celebrity mediums in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the way this explosion of superstition and spiritual belief coincided with the birth of science and psychology. Magic and the examination of paranormal phenomena played a key role in the emergence of psychology as a scientific discipline. Among the exhibits will be an exploration of the work of Maskelyne and Cooke,whose ‘anti-spiritualist’ show ran at the Egyptian Hall for 30 years, and the investigation into the work of medium Mina ‘Margery’ Crandon by  Harry Houdini.

 Misdirection examines the way magicians ensure we miss vital clues to the trick’s method while remaining unaware that our attention has been misdirected. The head of Derren Brown’s gorilla costume will sit alongside footage of Tommy Cooper’s performance of the ‘Egg Bag’ trick, in which he manipulates his audience through diversion, as it also looks at how the female assistant is a universally-employed distraction technique.

Mentalism explores the way magicians influence decision-making and create the impression that they can read your mind or implant a thought in your head. It will explore why horoscopes work, hypnotism as a stage act and the popular rise of telepathy and ESP – including a selection of submissions from the hundreds of members of the British public who took part in a BBC public extra-sensory perception experiment in 1967.


The exhibition as a whole will consider how magic and science have always had a close history, despite apparent tensions between the two and how the use of deception in different settings can have a negative and a positive impact on human health. The exhibition will include loans from across the globe, including The Magic Circle and Goldsmiths ‘Magic Lab’, with magic props, photographs, films, stage posters, a ghost detection kit, spirit and ectoplasm photographs (like the one above), the ‘Bell Box’ used by Houdini to challenge the claims of  Crandon, Paul Daniels’ recreation of P.T. Selbit’s original sawing in half box and a film by artist Daria Martin that explores illusion, transformation and sleight-of-hand.

The exhibition run from 11th April to 15th September, and is free to visit at The Wellcome Museum, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE.