|© Copyright Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts|
Last week I visited the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (SCVA) which is part of the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Quite aside from being interesting professionally and as a potential inclusion in my Chartership portfolio, it was a really lovely day out. I’ve been to Norwich before but never ventured out to the UEA campus, and I’m glad I didn’t leave it any longer.
The SCVA is housed in a spectacular 1970s Norman-Foster-designed building. Although not a problem-free edifice for those who work there, the large open-plan grey-and-white space is surprisingly attractive and successful despite its superficial similarities with Stansted Airport. The public can visit for free the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, the UEA Collection of Abstract and Constructivist Art, Architecture and Design, and there’s a small charge for a changing programme of special exhibitions. The SCVA also houses the UEA departments of World Art Studies (including an extensive slide and photograph library) and Museology, the Sainsbury Research Unit for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas (including its own library and individual allocated study spaces for MA and PhD students).
The Sainsbury Collection comprises modern art pieces by artists such as Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon, as well as art from across the globe by which many of the represented modern artists were inspired. It is displayed in a gallery space known as the 'Living Area', in the objects are arranged by broad geographical groupings, and in which textual interpretation is kept to a minimum. Visitors are invited to explore the galleries according to what catches their eye and their senses. This was described to me by a member of gallery staff as being a space in which visual communication is key.
I found this hands-off approach initially quite intimidating - I'm a gallery visitor who likes to have lots of text handy in case I 'need' it. I (think) that I like to be able to find out who/what/where/when anything is, and feel reluctant to start exploring if I can't find that out easily. However, when let loose in the gallery I found that my eye was drawn to individual pieces, and that from those I led myself to others, looking for connections between them. The acknowledged link between the modern and 'world' pieces encourages that approach - it invited the visitor to look for (potential) influences and visual relationships.
My eye -- as often in galleries -- was drawn to drawings, to simple lines, and (above all) to animal figures. I made a long list of my favourites in the hopes that I could link straight to their catalogue records, but alas that isn't possible*. But here are links to a couple that have special pages, and a few similar objects in other collections:
- Figure of a walking hippopotamus (SCVA)
- Llama effigy (SCVA)
- Bronze boars from the Hounslow Hoard (British Museum)
- Netsuke of a wild boar, running or leaping (Fitzwilliam Museum)
*For my future reference, at least, here are the object numbers of my favourites: 575b, 892, 377, 365, 337, 149, 150, 1029, 996, 124, 664a, 1136, 722, 1137, 68, 48, 306, 587, 57.