Research Point: Research an aspect of British art from the past 30 years

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (SCVA)

I have chosen to look in more detail at the SCVA as the art gallery nearest to me but also for the interesting way in which art is displayed there. It is a little over 30 years old now, but more recent extensions to the gallery space bring it well within the time frame.

The following points are taken from the SCVA website:

  • SCVA is part of the University of East Anglia (UEA)
  • It is one of around a hundred university museums in the UK regularly open to the public
  • Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury donated their collection of World art to UEA in 1973
  • SCVA was the first major public building to be designed by Sir Norman Foster in 1978
  •   It was extended in 1991 with a partially underground crescent wing to house temporary exhibition areas
  • A further extension was completed in 2006 to link the 1978 1nd 1991 buildings
  • It houses the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions as well as a café, restaurant, UEA School of World Art Studies and Museology, Library and two mezzanines for study areas and further exhibition space.

The permanent collection is displayed in the main part of the 1978 building which has a vast, cavernous interior. It is all housed in one area (no going from room to room) and the height of the ceiling is enormous. This gives a very light and airy feel to the inside and the exhibits could feel dwarfed within the building – but they don’t. A lot of thought has obviously been given to their display. It is very much a collection of world art spanning both continents and ages;

  • A ceramic Egyptian hippopotamus from 1880BC
  • A 15th century Peruvian silver llama
  • An 18th/19th century wood carving from the Cook Islands
  • 19th century bronze sculpture by Degas
  • Sculptures by Henry Moore
  • Portraits by Francis Bacon

Writing in the Financial Times, Jackie Wullschlager talks about the permanent collection “Housed in Norman Foster’s luminous, hangar-like building, opened in 1978, the diversity of the 300 pieces, from indigenous to recent paintings and sculptures, and the unifying display emphasising the power of human imagination across millennia, transformed ideas of art, collecting, and the purpose and organisation of museums”.

In addition to the permanent collection on display there are regular temporary exhibitions. Currently there is an Art Nouveau exhibition in the mezzanine gallery. This too feels light and airy because of the size of the building (despite being much nearer the roof!).

The more recent temporary exhibition areas are partially underground and have a very different feel to them. Most of the areas have no natural light and ceiling heights are much lower. Despite this, however, the galleries don’t feel cramped or claustrophobic. There is nothing to detract from the work on display as there is no element of the building to be seen.

There have been some great temporary exhibitions in these galleries, the current one being Masterpieces: Art and East Anglia.

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