Mat Collishaw, Tracey Emin and Paula Rego, The Foundling Museum, London

3.00

The Foundling Hospital in Bloomsbury was created in the 18th century by a venturesome sea captain and shipwright called Captain Thomas Coram. It existed to alleviate the appalling suffering of the many wretched foundlings who were abandoned on the streets of London. Captain Coram's hospital took some of them in – alas, not all of them by any means. The great hospital itself was swept away in the 1930s, but there is still a Coram Foundation devoted to the needs of deprived children, and a glorious open space where the hospital once stood called Coram's Fields. One of the most entertaining public notices to be read in the whole of London is displayed at its entrance. This is not a public park, it reads. No adult is to enter unless accompanied by a child. We critics sometimes feel that way about exhibitions of contemporary art, that the sanity of a small child might help to refresh our eye.

And then, right at the back of Coram's Fields and the little public park that abuts it, there is the Foundling Museum, first created in the 1930s – as a penance perhaps for having wantonly destroyed that finer hospital. It is in this building that Coram and his achievements as an exemplary philanthropist are memorialised. Here is panelling from one of the great hospital's rooms, a replica of its picture gallery (complete with pictures), and fine paintings and objects donated by the hospital's many benefactors, among whom were Handel and Hogarth. There is even a Handel Room on the top floor, which contains manuscripts, his books, and other fascinating memorabilia.

For the next couple of months, three contemporary artists have joined the ongoing conversation here about the plight of children by displaying sympathetic works in various parts of the building. And even outside the building. It is often quite difficult to find their contributions. In fact, it proves to be a game of hide and seek, which is sometimes interesting and at other times exasperating. As you walk up the steps of the building, you spot the first artwork – Tracey Emin's tiny bronze cast of a baby's mitten, painted a suitably grubby pink, and folded back as if about to be slipped on to a tender foot. The morning I visited, the sock itself was partially overshadowed by a bullying leaf.

The single most arresting intervention is Paula Rego's huge Oratoria, which sits on the first landing, opposite a bench from which you can sit and contemplate its shockingly arresting display of miseries and horrors. "Ugh, scary!" says a teacher as she hurriedly pushes past me, pulling at the arm of a small child. I couldn't agree more. This is a huge tableau, with opening wings. Painted, papier-mâché figures, life-size and tricked out in 18th-century Foundling Hospital costumes, sit and loll around at its centre; paintings rise up at their back, and on its opening wings. It is just like something tiny grown nightmarishly large. An emaciated, puppet-like child hangs over the knees of a black nurse like some grotesque pieta. The figures have over-large heads; they have a demonic fairy-tale quality about them in common with so much of the work of Paula Rego.

In another room, amid venerable portraits of beaming male benefactors, a rack of baby clothes, courtesy of Tracey Emin, waits patiently for a baby. Mat Collishaw's Children of a Lesser God, a giant, wall-mounted transparency blown up to the size of a portrait of an eminent benefactor, makes the flesh creep. Two wolfish dogs, surrounded by scraps of torn animal skin and animal offal, seem to be protecting two naked young babes inside a wire compound. "An image of paternal strength and pride", interprets the exhibition guide. Hmm.

To 9 May (020 7841 3600)

Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette

film
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz